Orange County Chief Executive Officer William J. Popejoy launched a blistering private attack against Supervisor Jim Silva on Thursday, accusing him of refusing to reduce his own office budget while publicly supporting "deep cuts" in county services.
In a scathing March 2 memo obtained by The Times, Popejoy described Silva's position as "an insult to the employees of the county, who must carry much of the burden of the upcoming budget cuts."
He added: "Your dual standard represents, in my opinion, a total lack of leadership and is an unfeeling position for you to assume during this crisis. How can we ask schools, cities and others who trusted the county with their funds to make sacrifices when we refuse to do so?"
Popejoy's aggressive memo followed a heated meeting with Silva on Wednesday night, during which the supervisor refused to make a second round of cuts to his office budget, sources said.
Silva said he was angry at Popejoy for writing the memo but has changed his position since meeting with him. Silva said he now plans to make significant cuts to his own budget, but only if other supervisors follow suit.
"I feel that he was right that the board must lead by example," he said.
Although he refused to specify the cuts, Silva said they will be "drastic" and involve at least one layoff among his six staff members. The reductions will be in addition to the 22% budget cut Silva made when he took over from former Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder in January.
Silva also said that, unlike other supervisors besides Marian Bergeson, he does not have a county car.
Even though he believes Popejoy was right about cutting supervisors' office budgets, Silva said he was upset with the county's new chief executive officer for writing the memo, which Silva said provided an inaccurate portrayal of him.
"The implications in that letter are not even close to being true. I have a very good reputation with city employees and county employees," he said. "I think it's going to be difficult working with (Popejoy) now."
Popejoy refused Thursday to discuss the memo or his meeting with Silva. "If Mr. Silva wants to talk about it, then that's fine," he said.
Popejoy said he is meeting with other board members about cutting their budgets, but refused to say whether they are complying.
Although supervisors' budgets vary somewhat, all were at least $500,000 a year before the county declared bankruptcy Dec 6. County budget officials have asked the supervisors to trim their budgets to $387,000 each.
The four other supervisors said Thursday that they are trying comply with the request to trim their budgets. They are scheduled to offer proposed cuts to Popejoy today.
"It affects us, but we're not left with much of a choice," said Board Chairman Gaddi H. Vasquez, who noted that he already has reached the goal.
An aide to Bergeson said cuts are being made in her office budget, but did not give details. An aide to Supervisor Roger R. Stanton said the office will reach the $387,000 goal. Supervisor William G. Steiner said he is still working on cuts to his budget.
"Everybody is deciding individually what they can do," said Dave Kiff, an aide to Bergeson. "We know that this office has to share part of the pain."
Vasquez, Stanton and Steiner have also pledged to cut their $82,000 salaries by 5%. Silva and Bergeson have not.
Steiner said he understands why Silva might have been reluctant to slash his budget.
"Silva feels more strongly than I do, but I think it's inconsistent to expect us to have oversight over the bureaucracy and respond to constituents with no staff," Steiner said.
Popejoy's criticism of Silva indicates a willingness to tackle the budget crisis regardless of the ramifications for himself and the supervisors. It also shows the power Popejoy is willing to assert in his newly created CEO post.
Although Popejoy serves at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors, it would take four votes to remove him from office before his term expires in November. When Popejoy's contract was approved last month, Silva was the only supervisor to oppose the conditions, saying he believes a simple board majority should be enough to fire Popejoy.
Although Popejoy refused to comment Thursday, he has previously called on county leaders to share the burden of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
On Wednesday, Popejoy initiated the latest round of budget cuts by laying off 25 employees in his own office.
Since joining the board in January, Silva has tried to portray himself as a frugal bureaucrat tough on government waste. He led the charge to fire an expensive public relations firm hired by the county in the wake of the bankruptcy. Earlier this week, he opposed a $75 stipend for members of a newly formed treasury oversight committee. And in the days after he took over for Wieder, Silva made a point of repainting his office himself, instead of asking county workers to do it.
But Silva has also defended the need for a large office budget.
At a Committees of Correspondence meeting Wednesday night, Silva said supervisors must maintain their staffs because their aides provide board members with information and perspectives that may differ from the county staff.
Without a board staff, "I become a county employee," Silva said at the group's meeting.
That remark apparently angered Popejoy, who also attended the meeting.
"Mr. Silva," Popejoy wrote in his memo. "Please look at your paycheck. It will clearly show that even as a supervisor, you are paid by the County of Orange and are one of its employees."
With sweeping cuts in personnel a certainty, Popejoy called Silva's stance a "bitter disappointment."
"Many of those employees will lose their jobs, their lives will be harshly affected, and you won't even consider any budget reductions for yourself and your staff of six individuals," Popejoy wrote.
The Committees of Correspondence, a vocal anti-tax group, asked supervisors in December to cut their staffs by 50% and reduce their salaries by 10%. But after discussing the issue with supervisors, the organization's members agreed that smaller staffing reductions would be acceptable to them.
Group member Carole Walters praised some supervisors, such as Steiner, for making staff cuts, but said other supervisors could do more trimming.
"I think some supervisors still need to make more cuts," Walters said. "They need to share the pain. . . . I think these cuts need to come from the top and not just from below."
But another committees member, Bill Mello, said he is less concerned with the supervisors' staffing levels than with their stand on "important things" such as taxes and downsizing county government.
Mello said Silva's 22% staff cut is "good enough."
"If he cuts too much, he'll be doing all the work in his office and won't be effective," Mello said. "Otherwise, he'll be answering phones, spending 50 hours a week talking to people and won't have time to do important things."
Although Silva is new to the board, some, including his own colleagues, have complained that the District 2 supervisor makes his decisions in lock-step with Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, who represents District 1.
County insiders refer to the two districts as "District 12" because of Silva's close alliance with Stanton.
But Silva said that "I don't think Roger and I have ever studied positions together. I know there were key votes on which we were on opposite sides."
Times correspondent Shelby Grad contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Clash of the Titans
Orange County CEO William J. Popejoy, who predicts as many as 2,000 county employees face layoffs, clashed this week with Supervisor Jim Silva over Silva's refusal to make additional cuts in his office budget--a position the supervisor said Thursday he has changed.
"Your (Silva's) adamant refusal to make any voluntary reduction from your existing budget level is an insult to the employees of the county, who must carry much of the burden of the upcoming budget cuts."
"Your dual standard represents, in my opinion, a total lack of leadership and is an unfeeling position for you to assume during this crisis."
"The implications in that letter are not even close to being true. I have a very good reputation with city employees and county employees. I think it's going to be difficult working with (Popejoy) now." But Silva said he is now considering more budget cuts: "I feel that (Popejoy) was right that the board must lead by example."
Source: Times reports; Researched by MATT LAIT / Los Angeles Times
The fourth hearing conducted by the state Senate Special Committee on Local Government Investments is scheduled for today. The all-day session will be in the Irvine City Hall council chambers, One Civic Center Plaza. The tentative agenda:
9:30-9:45 a.m.: Opening statements by state Sens. William A. Craven and Lucy Killea
9:45 a.m.-noon: Issues surrounding the bankruptcy solution
* Bruce Bennett, Orange County bankruptcy attorney
* William J. Popejoy, county's chief executive officer
* Matthew Raabe, county's former assistant treasurer
Noon-1 p.m.: Lunch
1-4 p.m.: Issues surrounding the bankruptcy solution (continued)
* Marc Bellinson, attorney for coalition of county labor groups
* John H. Sawyer, general manager, and Frank Eley, president, O.C. Employees Assn.
* Robert J. MacLeod, general manager, Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs
* John J. Wyrough, executive director, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
* Cynthia Pickett, executive director, Service Employees International Union
* Dallas Jones, president, Los Angeles and Orange County Firefighters
Institutional investor representatives:
* Thomas J. Kenny, senior vice president-director, Municipal Bond Department, Franklin Advisers Inc.
* Blake E. Anderson, senior vice president, director of tax exempt investments, Putnam Investments
* Gail C. Hutton, city attorney, Huntington Beach
* Dr. John Nelson, assistant superintendent, Orange County Department of Education
* Robert Locke, director of finance and administrative services, city of Mountain View
* Fred Whittaker, vice president and general counsel, Southern Counties Oil Co.
* John M.W. Moorlach, certified public accountant, Balser, Horowitz, Frank & Wakelin
4-5 p.m.: Public comment
Source: Senate Special Committee on Local Government Investments