RETIRED COUNTY MANAGER REHIRED AFTER CLOSED-DOOR MEETING WITH DEVELOPERS
Pat Stanton, who retired as county manager of subdivision and grading in January, was hired back to his old job as "extra help" in March at the request of big developers with subdivisions pending before the county, according to the Los Angeles Times ("O.C. Rehires Planner at Developers' Prodding," April 19, 2003). At a meeting convened by the Building Industry Association (BIA) in county offices, the developers offered to pay Stanton's salary if necessary. "They would be getting the best subdivision management money could buy," remarked Silverado resident and county watchdog Sherry Meddick. "Stanton has been their man from way back when." According to the Times, however, the cash-strapped county planning department declined the offer and "found" money in its budget to pay Stanton's hourly salary.
Under state law, land must be subdivided into lots before it can be developed and sold. After a subdivider submits a proposed tentative subdivision map, the county imposes conditions of approval intended to provide for necessary public facilities and services, including streets, school and park facilities, fire protection, and drainage. These conditions often involve the payment of fees. The subdivision committee, comprised of non-elected county officials, votes on whether to approve the tentative subdivision map. As manager of subdivision and grading for years, Stanton prepared numerous reports recommending approval of subdivision maps, and then voted on those maps as the chairman of the subdivision committee. A special type of subdivision, the "vesting tentative" map, legally locks in the right to complete the development of the lots under the regulations that existed at the time of submission, even if the county or city later changes those regulations. The manager of subdivision and grading also signs off on numerous conditions of approval imposed on developments. "Subdivision is the important point where developers pay up and cash in," explained Meddick, "but since when do they just walk in and tell the county who to hire?"
Concerned over the apparent conflict of interest, RCCF has demanded an accounting of Mr. Stanton's hiring and compensation.
This incident clearly illustrates the county's abject subservience to the building special interest. After months of losing money at the rate of $400,000 to $1 million a month, the county planning department somehow "found" the funds to bring back the BIA's hand-picked insider. Now, we can understand the request of those doing business with the county for adequate staffing and service. But the builders went far beyond this reasonable request by demanding in a closed door meeting that the county hire Stanton, and only Stanton.
The summary rehiring of Stanton as subdivision manager, a post with profound influence on the public interest, shows that, even after the departure of former planning director Tom Mathews, the agency still doesn't have a clue about who it's supposed to be working for, and continues to behave as the unabashed local government wing of the BIA. Doesn't the public interest demand a real effort to identify and hire the best person for the job?
Concerned citizens should demand that county supervisors investigate this incident, involve the public in the hiring of Mathews' successor, and work to hire the best qualified persons instead of merely rubber-stamping the BIA's appointees.