BOND TICKER : ORANGE COUNTY IN BANKRUPTCY : County Will Have to Spin for Itself : Bankruptcy: PR firm handling media inquiries calls it planned transition. Elsewhere, supervisors to meet at night; worries about mosquitoes and school funding.
Sitrick and Co., the Los Angeles public-relations firm hired by Orange County to handle media inquiries since the Dec. 6 bankruptcy filing, probably will clear out of the Hall of Administration by next week. Mike Sitrick, the firm’s chairman, said Wednesday his employees had planned to reduce hours as the crisis atmosphere waned, and recently began training four county employees.
Sitrick billed the county $238,000 for three weeks in December and has not submitted a tab yet for January, Sitrick said, adding that during the first 35 days of the crisis, 5,200 news stories were published around the country.
“We’re trying to transition to the point where they handle the day-to-day and we’re called in as needed,” Sitrick said. “This was a planned transition.”
* Vector Control District officials fear the county bankruptcy could hamper their war against rodents, insects and other organism that transmit disease. The agency has $1.3 million frozen in the county investment pool--more than a quarter of its annual operating budget. One concern is the heavy rain, which draws egg-laying mosquitoes to coastal salt marches such as Bolsa Chica. The district sprays the marsh areas with pesticide during the rainy season--and each spraying requires use of the helicopter and costs about $33,000, General Manager Gilbert L. Challet said. “We have the funding to treat it twice,” he said. “That’s usually enough. But sometimes it take four or five times to do the job.”
“There’s nothing to be scared about at the point. But if you start looking at possible scenarios in the future, we could be hurting.”
* The Orange County Board of Supervisors will hold its first night meeting in Santa Ana at 7 p.m. Tuesday--part of an effort to make it easier for residents to attend public meetings.
The agenda includes a proposal to replace Merrill Lynch & Co. with Goldman Sachs & Co. as “re-marketing agent” for bonds associated with an Irvine apartment complex. The board also will consider hiring the law firm of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey as bond counsel to help the county with its bankruptcy.
* Orange County’s top financial adviser, former state treasurer Thomas W. Hayes, is expected to testify Friday at a Los Angeles hearing on the county’s financial troubles.
The hearing is being held by Matt Fong, California’s current treasurer. It is the second hearing by Fong’s task force and is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Ronald Reagan State Building, Eason Conference Room, 300 S. Spring St.
* The School Inter-Ethnic Council has asked members to donate postage stamps and will request $5 from participants in its workshops to help it survive the bankruptcy. The council--which helps schools with multicultural and nonviolent conflict resolution programs--is run by the Orange County Human Relations Commission, which faces staff cuts of its own.
“Any donation you can make to cover the cost of printing, postage and materials would be greatly appreciated,” said a recent letter from the Human Relations Council, a nonprofit group that supports the county’s Human Relations Commission.
* Parent groups across Orange County are planning to hold a rally Tuesday to publicize the woes facing school districts in the face of the bankruptcy. The subject came up at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Santa Ana Unified School District. Organizers said they hope to attract more than 1,000 people to the Santa Ana Civic Center for the rally, which is set for 3 to 5 p.m.
* The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has reinstated Merrill Lynch & Co. as a member of its underwriting group. The transit agency had dropped Merrill as an underwriter last month amid questions about the firm’s role in the bankruptcy of Orange County, where officials have accused the brokerage of violating state law by making massive extension of credit to the county and encouraging risky investments.
Merrill Lynch had served as part of the senior underwriting group for the Los Angeles agency’s debt sales since 1990. “We’re pleased and gratified that the facts have begun to prevail over the emotions in this matter,” said Paul Critchlow, Merrill’s chief spokesman.
* In its first response to Orange County’s lawsuit, Nomura Securities International has denied allegations that the firm sold off about $900 million worth of county bonds the day after the county filed for bankruptcy.
In court documents Wednesday, the company states that it sold the assets before the county declared bankruptcy. The New York-based company also asks U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge John E. Ryan to dismiss the county’s lawsuit, which accuses the firm of violating bankruptcy codes.