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Our View: Ollar Burris case wasting taxpayer money

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Placer County has spent way too much time and energy seeking to punish former Planning Commissioner Michelle Ollar Burris. After two-and-a-half years of investigation, and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, the county has come up with zilch to benefit those whose money it is spending. Ollar Burris and a couple of alleged co-conspirators, Grass Valley consultant George Wasley and Sacramento attorney Thomas Van Horne, are accused of illegal lot-splitting and violating the state map act. When the District Attorney’s Office was asked years ago by then-planning director Fred Yeager to look into these alleged illegal activities, local prosecutors declined. Shouldn’t that be a red flag that this case isn’t winnable? And even if it were winnable, the effort and expense are not worth the potential reward. Placer County Counsel Anthony La Bouff has danced around this case from the start. When asked to comment initially, he didn’t seem to know enough about the state map act to adequately represent taxpayers in the civil litigation. So the county hired Richard Crabtree out of Chico to get to the bottom of this Alice in Wonderland-style rabbit hole. Yet here we are, two and a half years later, and supervisors unanimously voted June 22 – in closed session – to allocate another $50,000 to an out-of-county private attorney to further pursue a case they have already paid him $130,000 to solve. Ken Campbell, who received the most votes for the Placer County Republican Central committee in the recent election, has repeatedly stated that the county has wasted upward of $1 million on what he sees as a politically motivated charade. Translation: County taxpayer advocates don’t want to waste any more time, energy or money on this case. When Journal reporter Gus Thomson asked La Bouff how much money, in total and including staff time, the county has spent on going after Ollar Burris and company, the lead county counsel said he didn’t know. At a time when the county faces huge financial challenges, and rank-and-file workers are being asked to sacrifice and take furlough days while services are cut for residents, the county counsel having no idea how much his legal team is spending is ridiculous. The burden falls, however, on supervisors Kirk Uhler, Robert Weygandt, Jim Holmes, Rocky Rockholm and Jennifer Montgomery. They all voted yes — throw more taxpayers’ money at this case. Supervisor Jim Holmes told the Journal that because legal matters are discussed in closed session, he would be unable to comment on the case on the advice of county counsel. Does Holmes represent taxpayers or the county counsel? Furthermore, do supervisors work for county CEO Tom Miller or is it the other way around? It’s hard to tell what’s going on in closed session. It could take another year for the Ollar Burris case to go to trial in Placer County Superior Court. If Ollar Burris wins that, she has a federal civil rights case against the county waiting in federal court. It’s comical that Placer County chose to hire an outside attorney and has paid him $180,000 so far with little to show for it. Considering the wealth of legal talent in the area, couldn’t the county even shop local? Truthfully, this case isn’t funny at all. It’s a boondoggle. It looks to the average Joe, to the guy on the street, like the county picks and chooses who it goes after. Case in point: When Richard Colwell, county assistant CEO who was being paid $250,000 a year unexpectedly retired in December, there was no press release from the county’s team of public information officers. No transparency. No full explanation … Nothing but an “attaboy Richie” and a gigantic pension check for the rest of Colwell’s life. After the Placer County Deputy Sheriff’s Association filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission over what it considered failure to report property and rental income, Colwell agreed to a stipulated judgment that admitted his violation of the Political Reform Act. His punishment, revealed in Thursday’s Journal, was a paltry $800 fine and no commission hearing. The fine could have been as much as $20,000. Supervisors obviously were familiar with many of the reasons why Colwell abruptly resigned, but sought no public investigation, expressed no outrage, and certainly did not target one of their own. What is the public to think? Does this seem like a level playing field? So what can the county do about it now? Act in the best interest of constituents and seek to immediately settle the Ollar Burris case out of court. Quit throwing money away. It’s time to move on with more pressing matters.