The Diffusion of Accountability 101. An Essay

If somebody were teaching a class of young bureaucrats and politicians on the art of how to really screw something up and get a way with it, he might very well use the County of Orange’s acquisition of the building at 433 Civic Center West as textbook material.

Maybe we, Hell, tear it down.

As we have detailed here, the building was purchased at the beginning of 2008 for $2.1 million by the Board of Supervisors, at the behest of County Clerk, Tom Daly. The ostensible purpose was to accommodate the overflow of paper in the County’s archives, of which Daly is chief custodian.

The job requires no qualifications except getting the most votes.

Somehow, almost inexplicably, the County staff in the then RDMD building and real estate sections claimed to have checked out the building and found it acceptable; the County CEO Tom Mauk recommended to the Supervisors an “as-is” purchase, another inexplicable decision. As later events revealed, the County staff’s involvement in this acquisition was utterly disastrous and placed the Board in what has become an acutely embarrassing situation.

So why did the so-called professionals make the determinations they did? There aren’t a lot of choices. They were either lobbied by Daly; or they simply did what they thought Daly wanted them to do; or they are completely incompetent and should be immediately terminated for gross negligence.

Who did what, now?
What? Why? How?
Good thing the Ackermans never found out.

I also note that the Board of Supervisors are endowed with ample budgets to employ able and competent staff. So what happened to these all these gifted people? Chris Norby, John Moorlach, and Janet Nguyen each voted for this. Where were their personal staff members? Was there not one competent person among all these well-paid supervisorial aides who could have raised a red-flag? How come not one of the Supervisor’s aides walked a couple hundred yards to examine a decrepit building that staff was recommending purchase, as-is? And why didn’t an “as-is” purchase raise a serious red flag to the Supervisors themselves, all three of whom purport themselves to be fiscal conservatives? Would any three of these folks buy property with their own money “as-is?”

And how come none of these same Supervisors argued for an examination of alternatives to acquiring real estate to house the paper overflow?

Or was “rubber stamping” simply the modus vivendi of these Superviors and their direct employees? I think we have to assume that the same narrow possibilities that apply to the bureaucrats above, also apply to the Supervisors and their personal staffs.

Sometime in 2009 the County hired Kishimoto Architects to do a space and physical assessment of 433 Civic Center West. We can only speculate at this point what caused this to occur, but since a competent assessment of a property normally occurs before and not after a property is purchased, I really have to wonder. But the building was acquired “as-is.”

Kishimoto’s assessment was grim. The building failed to meet the County Clerk’s space needs; and it was deficient or obsolete in every conceivable way and can’t be used by the public. It will cost additional millions to make it work; but the original investment appears to be a dead loss, given the scope and cost to fix the building.

Off we go, into the Wild Blue Yonder...

And here’s the rub, accountability-wise. So many people have their fingerprints all over this disaster that it becomes virtually impossible to pin effective culpability on anybody, and hence, accountability. Tom Daly is the prime architect of this fiasco, to be sure; but as his adherents are quick to point out, staff recommended this and the Board approved it.

I didn't do it...

So Daly can shrug and point to the incompetent staff. Staff is always protected as the poor, under-compensated civil servants that they are; and after all they were just following direction, they’ll say. Plus, the lax overseer of the RDMD has slinked off to retirement with a massive, inflation-linked pension.

Bryan Speegle. The door didn't hit him on the way out.

The Supervisors’ aides can shrug it off, too. Daly wanted it, not us; plus, our crack County staff said everything was hunky dory. And besides we were out at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast schmoozing with the locals.

It was Norby's fault. That's why I'm putting all these new people in his office.

And what of the Supervisors themselves, who are responsible to nobody but the voters, and who have so signally failed them? Norby has already moved on, and Moorlach faces no opposition for re-election this fall. Janet Nguyen is the only one who is going to have to answer to the electorate on this issue. She’d better.

29 Replies to “The Diffusion of Accountability 101. An Essay”

  1. I’m wondering if anybody can even go inside that building since the structural engineer says it needs seismic retrofit and is full of asbestos.

    Maybe it should be red-tagged.

    And the County CEOs office of risk management should be red-tagged, too.

  2. We have an election coming up for Norby’s replacement. Who among the candidates is the most likely to stand up on these issues and not be lured in to befriending the staff? Who is the person that will buck the system and call things out when it isn’t popular?

    Seems to me Faher and Nelson are least likely to have a love affair with staff types. Is Faher a legit candidate?

    1. Fahar is a circus sideshow.

      Nelson lacks the ego that makes many candidates, read Siduh/Galloway, to go along with staff all the time. In fact, Nelson seems to be the only one out of the candidates living and not living in the district, to show any backbone to stand up to staff.

      Since this is a Daly subject matter post, I wonder if Daly’s boy, Phil Tsunoda, was involved in hoodwinking Norby into voting for this asinine project.

      1. This is not about Daly, per se, but about a process that lets people entrusted with authority and power abuse it (i.e.screw up and then dodge responsibility).

        You do raise a good point about that Tsunoda guy. He was on both sides of the fence on this.

  3. Good post.

    But what about the “journalists,” where were they? And maybe their failure is part of the reason they refuse to even talk about the issue now.

    1. The Register “reporters” won’t write anything negative about Daly’s screw up because they’re all friends which allows him to screw up and not to worry about anyone ever knowing about the screw up.

  4. The building is not a “dead loss”. It is another episode of bureaucratic incompetence that directly damages everyone’s finances because it is our tax dollars that must pay for others gross mistakes.

  5. I’m wondering if this property is technically in the city of Santa Ana as well, and then should their building inspectors have had something to say about it.

    As well, if the joint’s worthless, shouldn’t Guillory the Assessor have waved a flag.

    You’re right — there’s a lot of fingers in all this — unfortunately all blameless and soon to be pointing at others.

    Looks like Norby’s COS brother and lame duck idiot Chief of Staff Tsunoda were also suffering from cranial rectal inversions.

  6. It is clear that you have no idea what it is the County Archives does. This deal was not “to accommodate the overflow of paper in the County’s archives”, but to give the Archives their own appropriate, environmentally controlled setting, suitable for the collections stored there.
    The County Archives is a department of the Clerk-Recorder. They handle the storage, and public access, of the County’s HISTORIC documents, generally those at least 50 years old and going back to the formation of Orange County out of Los Angeles County in the Victorian period. These pieces are large ledger books, filled with crumbling, delicate paper. Maps that are beginning to break at fold lines. You get the idea. These are delicate items that need a special environment for conservation.
    Tom Daly re-opened the Archives, (they were mothballed during the County BK) making those historic records accessible, with a team of professional historians and trained archives personnel, who understand how to store and handle antique documents. While the collections were made available for research once again, they are housed in the basement of the Old Courthouse Building, the only space Tom Daly could score from the County Supes. The basement is damp, cramped, and recently flooded. It is the last place these items should be housed. Ideally, archival materials should be housed in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Those systems require the complete gut of a building. If you know you have to gut your building for a special usage and customized systems, then the purchase of an AS IS building is perfectly acceptable. The County did not buy the building with the intent of turn-key occupation; they knew they had to rehab the thing going into it!
    Whether you like Daly or not, this was a wise decision. Go ahead, rip me a new orifice, but as a frequent user of the Archives, I can tell you this was the right thing for him to do, and well within the parameters of the Clerk-Recorder’s duties.

  7. Colony,

    A modern industrial building that meets ADA standards, has no asbestos, is energy efficient, has modern insulation and already has an up to date electrical panel would have been at minimum a reasonable place to start. I understand your points but this was a very poor real estate choice.

    Asbestos remediation alone is expensive. Why go through that with so many options available? Just asking. In this case, the bathrooms are not even ADA so there is literally nothing the county can use this for until we have enough for a complete renovation. A responsible decision would have been to not buy until or unless we had the ability to use the building if even in a limited capacity.

    The failure to evaluate what the extent of the improvements needed to use the building were before buying it also seems negligent. Even if this is the right building and the right time to buy, does anyone think getting the answers after the purchase is a best practice?

    This whole thing strikes me as sour.

  8. Dave, you are absolutely correct.

    Colony, you are right that the archives needs a facility to accommodate the materials. But as Dave pointed out, there are thousands of industrial buildings in Orange County that would have been a good place to start. I think Daly, et al, thought the location was great because it was in downtown but they were hung up on the address rather than the practical use. Just doing a quick cost per square foot analysis should cause one to look at other properties.

  9. “The County did not buy the building with the intent of turn-key occupation; they knew they had to rehab the thing going into it!”

    Colony, I know you are a big Daly fan, but still, that statement is a howler.

    First, I never claimed that this was supposed to be turn key, although Dave Buck makes an excellent point about alternatives that could be turn key.

    The truth is that staff indicated that minor repairs needed to be done that would be handled by Daly as part of his remodel. Potential risks were either ignored or brushed aside. The true condition of the building was never disclosed to the Supervisors who also made very little (if any) effort to find out for themselves.

    Nobody told the Supes anything about having to spend almost 3 million more to make the building habitable; or 5.7 million more to make it habitable and the right size; or 7.7 million to knock down the trash and build it right.

    Your description of the materials only goes to prove my point. The HVAC system in this building is totally antiquated as is the electrical service. Now that’s not very for good for protecting all those vital records! Plus the basement may leak, and the roofing/sealants are likely filled with chrysolite.

    Then of course, there’s all those finishes: the light ballasts are likely toxic (PCBs), the floor has asbestos as does the plaster. Save the shell you say? Well, better add a new structural steel frame to hold up the 40+ year old wood stud framing.

    Whether or not the archives needed expanding/relocating is irrelevant to the issues surrounding the purchase of this particular building, a process that was manifestly jacked up from the get go.

    The interest alone on that 2.1 mil could….aw, why bother.

  10. We are not going to agree on this, but when looking at the alternatives, you have to factor in keeping Archives staff and facilities close to the Clerk-Recorder’s building. How many NEW buildings are available in the Civic Center? You buy for location. As far as rehab, I am not talking about just temp and humidity control. Archives is a combination of museum-quality environmental control with the structural beef of a library. You reinforce floors, walls, etc to handle the heavy stacks and shelving units, electrical has to be upgraded, new foam sprinklers have to be run (not overhead water) alarm systems, it is a total gut job. When you are going that far, ADA and bathrooms are minor in comparison, which is frustrating for me to say when i know it is my tax money. But if I have to shoulder payments for a well located facility, or something that needs less up front work but is out of the way and therefore more expensive to run day to day, I am going to take the big hit up front and reduce costs in the long-term ops budget. Other than this one item, which I do not feel is as controversial as you claim, Tom has run a pretty tight ship. I do not agree with everything he has done, despite my cheerleading. Some staff decisions are not the choices I would have made. But overall he runs a budget surplus while keeping the lowest filing fees in the State. He is not running off to Aruba on fact-finding trips, etc. As electeds go, he is a good guy and I am sorry we cannot agree on this. I would prefer to use the time and energy on something more productive.

  11. Who says the archives must be in close proximity to the Clerk-Recorders headquarters? ROV is not in the civic center and there are many departments/divisions with remote offices that fulfill specific functions. How many visitors a day need to inspect an archive? A dozen?

  12. Colony Rabble:

    Tom Daly run a tight ship. You must be on drug.

    The Archives department is over staffed. Why do we need a Director and Archivist???? This is a waste of taxpayers money.

    Oh I forgot the Director was hired to campaign for Daly supervisors race. People talked and the truth will come out soon. Jean Pasco and Tom Daly it’s going to be a rough ride. We have proof and witnesses!!!!

  13. Everytime I go to the Archives building there are no one there. Tom Daly didn’t buy a building to store Archive. He purchase this building to create a museum. We have trophies and a motorcycle stored at the Archives building.

    Colony Rabble Tom Daly he is expanding his job duties and trying to create a museum.

    People are getting layoff and we go out and buy a 2.1 million dollars building and we will have to spend an additional 2.5 to 7.5 millions.

    This guy Tom Daly should be fired or reprimanded by the people who voted him in to office.

    I will not vote for this idiot!!! This is whats wrong with our goverment.

  14. We need to recalled Tom Daly. I read his comments about brainstorming with Brett Barbre that cost the taxpayers $48,000 .Jennifer Muir wrote the story but she didn’t write the story about the 2.1 million dollars purchase that Daly made. That should ahve been front page in the Registrer.

    Jennifer Muir is friends with Tom Daly and Jean Pasco. This is why it was brush under the rug!!!!

  15. It would seem to me we should keep Craig Hunter accountable as well. There is a new post on:

  16. As far as I’m concerned, the blame for this debacle rest solely at the feet of Tom Daly. This building was his choice and no one else. The other departments involved were simply doing what he asked. The Real Estate group was told to purchase the building, so they did; even thought they thought the building was a “dog”. And like someone else pointed out the Board was never told the building needed millions of dollar in improvements to make it ready for public use.

    As for the need for this building, that another big question mark. How many people actually visit the archives each week? Not that Tom Daly would ever give the true figure; but it can’t be more than a handful a week, if that. The Archives has more staff than visitors. Don’t take my word, go observe for yourself. There are more archives staff than visitors, and Daly has expanded this group ever since he was elected. The previous commenter was right, the building was purchased to be a museum. It’s ironic that Daly needed this building to be in the civic center, but then he needs a branch offices outside the civic center, like Fullerton?

    Colony how can you say Daly runs a tight ship? The only reason you would support this project is you work for him. Probably in the archives department. I cannot see a rational person not being upset over this waste.

  17. Only a person sucking on the goverment nipple would squander $2 million dollars then say we are running a tight ship!

  18. I do not work for Tom Daly, never have, never will. I work as a preservation consultant, helping people research and document their historic homes for listing on historic registers and filing Mills Act paperwork. I work for myself. That work brings me into contact with the Archives, as well as the Clerk-Recorder’s office, which has a different, but linked, function. I am never thrilled to see government spend my money. Frankly I think the BOS could have given Daly space in a County owned building that may have been retrofit. Or they could even have ponied up more money to adapt the Old Courthouse. Lacking that, Daly did the next best thing and went looking for space in the immediate area. I am not privy to all of the details of the deal, I am working from what I have seen and heard during frequnet trips to the departments. But I do not think the building is the egregious money-hole that you are making it out to be, and the need is absolutely there, if you understand the specialized use of the Archives as opposed to the Clerk-Recorder. They are very different, whiole under the same umbrella. I am done arguing about it, y’all can keep harping about Daly, I am going to find something productive to do with my day. Have a good one.

  19. I have spent 8 hours stints researching files and title chain of custody in the archives. The building is more than adequate. The real “need” was/is for a printer or copier that can scan 11″x17″.

    The flooding of that building during the heavy rains was do to a lack of maintenance, cleaning out drains and downspouts go a very long way to preserving buildings and the items they contain inside.

    Phil Brigandi was a damn fine archivist and his assistant should have been Phil’s replacement when he left. But up popped Old Jean Pasco, and presto change-O, she is the Archivist.

    Colony, when you defend the indefensible, not the idea that a better building is required, but rather the building that Daly purchased is a money pit – then you loose all credibility. We are all wrong at times. Realize that the building Daly purchased is a lost cause and move on to enlightening us about a better location that can provide easier access, showcase historical documents, provide educational outreach to students on field trips, in other words the role a better location/facility could play in our community.

  20. Had any of the Supervisors hired me as a “supervisorial aide”, I would have brought the matter to him/her attention on the cost, because it is the taxpayers who expect us to look out for their interests!

  21. There is only so much any elected official can do or anticipate. No doubt each of the three that voted on it and said YES nor regret doing so.
    The agendas are FULL of items just like this office building but perhaps a little less costly. Our elected officials are supposed to know what they are voting on with help from their staff and other internal agencies. They were all duped and none of them asked any serious questions. Without a staff report and a little background history, this should have been halted when Daly came to the podium.

  22. Colony,
    You must be a “VERY CLOSE FRIEND” of Tom Daly’s because I don’t think you really understand his main reason for obtaining the building.

    His main intention was to start a “Historic Sports Memoralbilia Museum”, what that has to do with the protection and storage of “Real Property Documents” beats me. I’m sure he could have found a more inhabital building and possibly for a bit less.

    By the way, did you hear that Tom Daly brought a court case against his competition, Hieu Nguyen on 3/23/10 because he did not like the title Hieu submitted for the election ballot for “Clerk-recorder 2010” ?

    This is just another example of Tom trying to get his way or is he NERVOUS about the election outcome?


  23. Colony Rabble (aka Cynthia Ward, puppet for Tom Daly, lunatic) you must be a crazy nut. How can you say this was a good project and this Daly guy runs a tight ship when he is handing out $48,000 and $100,000 contract to friends for no work?

  24. Tom Daly has name recognition? I don’t think anyone outside of Anaheim or his buddies know or care about this guy. That’s the reason he dropped out of the 4th district race. He is a has been and he realized it when he announced and some actual Anaheim council members decided to run against him. They no longer saw him as a threat. Being mayor almost a decade ago comes with a price. No one remebers you.

    1. #28, supposedly the OCEA did a poll for the 4th with Daly having a big lead.

      Now Daly is gone.

      Think FFFF had anything to do with that?

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