Imagine California as one giant episode of "Star Wars," with its government a galaxy. Mother Ships spawn Baby Ships that make their way to various cities and towns to eat taxpayers. The episode ends when all the taxpayers have been eaten, causing the Mother Ships to explode, but not until they've had one last feast.
When last we spoke I was bemoaning the fact that one of the many state agencies (a Mother Ship called the Administrative Office of the Courts and its 900 state employees and $177 million budget) was getting larger while the 58 county court offices (Baby Ships) it oversees shrink because they are running out of taxpayers and their taxes (remember the Golden Goose story?). The smart taxpayers, by the way, fled the Galaxy long, long ago because they didn't want to be eaten. They live in North Dakota today, where Mother Ships don't dare venture because they'd freeze.
Close to home, our Nevada County courts have trimmed payroll and may be forced by the Mother Ship to close one day per month despite a growing caseload. Local judges wondered why their own Mother Ship (the AOC) was growing while they were being asked to sacrifice.They also question the need for a $1.1 BILLION computer system being shoved its way by the AOC. The math, by the way, works out to roughly $20 million per county ... for a freaking computer system. At a time when we are cutting teachers, cops and firefighters to save money.
It didn't take long for a messenger from that particular Mother Ship to call me to say I had the wrong information and that his leaders were working really hard to watch expenses. "We used to have a soft hiring freeze and now we have a hard hiring freeze," he told me. And ... no ... I couldn't make that quote up if I tried. The public relations fellow from the San Francisco-based state government office went on to say he used to work for newspapers until he discovered that working for the state was easier and paid more. At least that's what he implied from his San Francisco office, which I pictured to be quite nice, since San Francisco offers some of the most expensive real estate on this planet.
It just so happened that a messenger from that Mother Ship's other office (in another part of San Francisco) was explaining why the officers and crew of her Mother Ship spent thousands and thousands of taxpayer dollars for a three-day party ... I mean conference ... June 24-26 at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco's financial district.
And before I get into the ugly details of that party ... I mean conference ... remember that it took place at the same time our state lawmakers (we'll collectively refer to them as Darth Vader) were staying up all night trying to figure out how they got $26 BILLION in the red. Recall, too, that I'd previously mentioned my concern that our nation has become a government aristocracy.
So anyway ... around 70 people from the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) got together at the Hilton in San Francisco to discuss ... get this ... "The California Judicial Branch Budget Crisis." They even spent $40,000 on five facilitators, just to make sure they came away with good notes on where all the taxpayer money went. And ... again ... I couldn't make this up if I tried. "Gentlemen ... please pass the wine ... we are gathered here to discuss urgent business ... please pass the cheese ... the state is broke and unless we find some money, we may be meeting next year in Marysville at a Motel 6 ...," which resulted in a collective gasp and group wine-spit across the table.
A $10,000 facilitator had to be summoned to coordinate a group-hug.
The Hilton meeting rooms cost $42,000, according to a memo I intercepted in cyberspace. An estimated 25 of the 70 attendees spent two nights each at the Hilton (at a discounted price of $138 per night) and one member (a fellow named Judge Brad R. Hill) spent the night in the "Presidential Suite" because, according to the memo, it was his turn. The memo didn't say how much the suite cost, but presidents don't stay in rooms where remote controls are chained to the television sets. Don't ask how I know this to be true.
When they weren't huddled around conference tables talking about the budget crisis, members of the party of state judicial executives were drinking wine and eating snacks at what they referred to as "O'Leary Receptions." The memo didn't say who O'Leary was, but who better to name a party after than an Irish judge? "Here's to O'Leary!"
It might be a good time to pause here and remember that this party ... I mean conference ... was happening while Nevada County courthouse employees (and state employees all over California) were being laid off and sent home without pay. So you might start to understand why our local judges might be just a little torked by such extravagance by their Mother Ship. You might also start to understand how groups such as the Tea Party are starting to get serious momentum.
The judicial group eventually got bummed out by all the budget crisis talk, so they boarded a bus and headed to the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, where taxpayers paid $6,000 for a cocktail party, according to the memo from the judicial council's mouthpiece.
The Administrative Office of the Courts' Director William C. Vickrey authorized the special meeting at the Academy, according to the memo.
Memo to self ... call Arnold and ask him to fire Vickrey immediately. Or ... at the very least ... confiscate his wine glass.
I'm sure this kind of arrogance is not uncommon on other Mother Ships. Last I checked, the state had an entire fleet of agencies. Did you know there is a state agency just to keep an eye on auto mechanics? We also have a California Board of Behavioral Science, which really ought to look into the behavior of the AOC. There's even a state Bureau of Home Furnishings, which shows you how far Big Brother has crept into our lives (he's under the bed). For the list of agencies, go online and check out www.ca.gov/About/ Government/agencyindex.html
Anyway ... the episode isn't quite finished. While Mother Ships continue to circle the galaxy, Darth Vader is walking the halls of the Sacramento Capitol Building looking for taxpayers to choke with his black-gloved mechanical hand.
And heading around the corner, directly in his path, is the Terminator - so grab some popcorn and hang on to your children and wallets.
Jeff Ackerman is the editor/publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.