The ongoing feud between Supervisor Todd Spitzer and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas escalated Tuesday, with the supervisor using a relatively routine item on the board meeting agenda to bash Orange County’s top prosecutor for not having a “day-to-day” professional running the office.
The discussion about whether Rackauckas should have a chief deputy as a second-in-command began when Patrick Dixon, a member of the committee Rackauckas formed to review the jailhouse snitch scandal, raised the issue at Tuesday’s meeting.
Dixon was commenting on a relatively routine vote on whether whoever would fill a vacant position within the D.A.’s office should have to file a conflict-of-interest declaration.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson pressed Dixon on what prompted him to come to the meeting to comment on a seemingly innocuous agenda item. Dixon said a newspaper reporter alerted him that a vote on the agenda item would mean the elimination of the long-vacant chief deputy post, which the committee recommended Rackauckas restore.
“The district attorney really needs a chief operating officer to watch over day-to-day issues in their office,” Dixon said. “The district attorney needs and should employ a chief deputy to handle the day-to-day operations and allow the district attorney to handle goals, policies and solve big issues in their office and in the criminal justice system. It allows the district attorney to focus on his goals.”
Dixon said the problem with the management of the D.A.’s office is that it “operates in silos,” and that the heads of each department do not communicate well.
Spitzer zeroed in the committee’s criticism of the chief of staff position held by Susan Kang Schroeder, who has frequently bickered with Spitzer with the two trading public jabs in the media.
“The chief of staff to the outside world appears to be the chief deputy, but that is not the case,” Dixon said. “There are no prosecutors who report to the chief of staff. She is not in the chain of command.”
Dixon added that some of the lesser experienced prosecutors “thought the chief of staff was the chief deputy.”
Nelson seemed irked by the debate.
“It’s a little strange to walk into a (human resources) cleanup and get a dissertation on how the D.A. should run his office,” Nelson said. “Maybe you are right, but I’m not sure this item is the way to tackle that.”
Supervisor Andrew Do, a former prosecutor, noted that the committee Dixon served on was created by Rackauckas. Do was leery of using the committee’s report to criticize the district attorney.
“We would discourage all departments from doing assessments because we’d be rubbing it in their face,” Do said, adding that the D.A. as an elected official “should run the office as he sees fit.”
Spitzer, however, said there is an urgency to the issue.
“The problem is the department is falling apart,” Spitzer said.
He railed on Rackauckas for not responding to the board’s request for a response to the committee’s report.
“They came up with recommendations that kicked the office in the rear end,” Spitzer said.
Schroeder fired back with an emailed response to City News Service.
“Shame on `ready, fire, aim’ Todd for abusing his elected office of county supervisor to campaign for Orange County District Attorney during a Board of Supervisors meeting,” Schroeder said.
“It’s disrespectful to other supervisors who are handling the people’s business. Todd’s agenda was so transparent and off-topic that he was forced to withdraw his motion, knowing he would not get a second,” she said.
“As recognized by other supervisors, the OCDA is an independently elected office. We are busy prosecuting more than 60,000 cases per year with a felony conviction rate of over 90 percent,” Schroeder said. “The OCDA fights to keep its citizens safe from gang members, fraudsters and human traffickers, while accomplishing its goal of maintaining public safety and operating within its budget. As for his grandstanding suggestions on how to run an office of almost 800 people, perhaps he should show some ability in running an office of eight.”
—City News Service