Finally!! An article in the media that zeroes in on what critics of the AOC have been saying for years. A government agency that has grown exponentially over the years into an one with misguided spending priorities on questionable projects, with a lack of transparency as to its spending, and a voracious appetite to seize all monies and power from local county courts. And at the same time this agency is perceived by many to be deaf and impervious to any and all questions, suggestions, or criticisms. We’ll just take your monies, thank you. Keep your ideas where they belong. To yourselves.
Howard Mintz wrote a great piece for the Mercury News that lays it all out for everyone to read.
- The agency has ballooned in size, cost, power and stature in recent years, reaching its peak at a time when the rest of California government is struggling with budget deficits and cutbacks in everything from education to programs for the poor and elderly. From 2004 through last year, the AOC’s budget nearly doubled to more than $220 million per year, and it has gone from a relatively unknown bureaucracy of 490 employees to 901 employees, a third of whom make at least $100,000 per year.
- the AOC’s rapid growth nevertheless has fueled a backlash from judges and court employees across the state upset with this summer’s unprecedented decision by the powerful Judicial Council, the policymaking arm of the courts, to shutter courthouses one day per month to save money, a move judicial leaders didn’t make even during the Great Depression.
- A review of the AOC’s budget shows that it has expanded dramatically as a bureaucracy. The agency’s central administrative budget went from about $101 million in 2004-05 to $142 million last year; it is expected to be cut about $6 million in the next year, but that would still leave the AOC with a budget that exceeds every other year in its existence.
- A 2002 law also created a separate, equally expensive part of the AOC devoted solely to running, and building, courthouses, shifting those costs from county government to the state. That part of the AOC budget has gone from $14.7 million five years ago to a projected $170 million next year, as money kicks in to build new courthouses.
And what is Justice Ronald George’s response to all of this?
“The AOC is by and large very efficiently run and provides services for the courts,” George said. “Growth by itself without knowing why the growth occurred isn’t a valid criticism.”
A-Mazing! That’s our point Justice George! How the heck are we supposed to know whether the growth of the AOC is valid or necessary if we don’t even know WHY it’s grown.
In its defense the AOC claims that one of the reasons why its budget has grown is because it has taken over the care of all the courthouses throughout the state.
Ronald Overholt, the AOC’s deputy director, notes that the AOC had to hire scores of staff to handle the task, which includes fielding 6,000 phone calls a month from courts around the state needing help with everything from leaky roofs to broken plumbing. And with courthouse bond money already approved to build new courthouses in many counties, including a new family court in Santa Clara County, many judges say they are grateful the AOC is doing the work.
Of course this has nothing to dissuade critics of the AOC.
“As nice as it seems to get new courthouses, it seems foolish to build new courthouses when we can’t keep the ones we have open,” said Kim Palmer, chief union steward for Santa Clara County’s court workers, who are quarreling with the judges over the one-day-per-month furlough program.
“They have a lot of power,” said Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster, another AOC critic. “There should be a top-down audit of what all these people do.”