You Must Remember This: Two Cassandras

By NANCY GARDNER

This is about two local Cassandras who, had they been heeded, would have saved the county from the slings and arrows of financial misfortune. Just as a reminder, Cassandra was the daughter of Priam, king of Troy. She was very beautiful and caught the eye of the god Apollo. Now there are two versions here. One is that he gave her the gift of prophesy when she promised to be his and she reneged. The other is that he gave her the gift of prophesy as a way of wooing her.  Whichever version, he never enjoyed her favors which put him in a snit. Since apparently once a God-given gift is bestowed it can’t be removed, even by the god, he couldn’t take away her ability to prophesy so he did the next best thing and decreed that she could prophesy all she wanted but nobody would believe her. Seeing into the future, she pleaded with her brother Paris not to seek Helen, proclaiming that her abduction would lead to the destruction of Troy.  Thanks to Apollo, nobody paid the slightest attention. Helen was grabbed and after a very long war with lots of gods and heroes (see The Iliad) Troy was defeated. Agamemnon claimed Cassandra as his concubine which didn’t go down very well with Mrs. Agamemnon who killed both of them. It is unknown whether Cassandra foresaw that.

Now to our Orange County Cassandras. Back in the 1950s, each supervisor focused exclusively on his district (so unlike today), and the result was a lack of overall vision. This didn’t seem to be a problem since each year the grand jury would do a review of county governance and always came back with a report that said everything was peachy. Then my father appointed Braden Finch as president of the jury. Finch was the husband of Kay Finch, who had her ceramics studio in Corona del Mar for so many years. More relevant to his role on the grand jury, he had been a newspaper man up in the Ventura area prior to moving south. As a former reporter he was used to digging a little deeper, and under his direction the report that was issued was hardly the anodyne of years past. He stated that the county was run in a “horse and buggy” way, meaning practices were rather behind the times. He went on to question the capabilities of the supervisors whose only qualifications for the job in many cases were that they got more votes than their opponents (again completely unlike today). This led to inadequate oversight of departments because there wasn’t the expertise to properly evaluate. What the county needed, Finch said, was someone with a strong background in public administration who could provide the proper oversight and management of the various departments, leaving the supervisors to focus on policy issues.

Nobody likes it publicly suggested that they are anything but sterling in the performance of their duties, and the supervisors’ initial impulse was to shove the report as far back in the files as possible, but the media picked up on the story, and public sentiment was supportive of the suggestions, so they had to do something. They hired a county administrator, but lest anyone think they actually caved, they gave that individual virtually no power, so things were pretty much the same.

Time passes, and we get to our second Cassandra. Back in 1994, John Moorlach ran for Orange County Treasurer. It was a bold move. Moorlach was a relative unknown, and the current treasurer, Robert Citron, had held the office for 24 years. He was a popular fixture in the county, particularly with the supervisors. Under Citron’s tenure, 12 percent of the county’s budget now came from interest on their investments. In other California cities, they were lucky if the figure was three percent. Good old Bob was doing such a great job for the county. Because the returns were so good, no one paid much attention as to how he was managing it except for Moorlach. He warned that Citron had made and was making dangerous investments and borrowing money to do it. He cautioned that bankruptcy could be the result, but he might as well have been cursed by Apollo for the attention anybody paid. He went down to defeat – and shortly thereafter the county had to declare bankruptcy.

In reaction, the supervisors created a new office, that of Chief Executive, to handle the general administration of the county and its departments, leaving the supervisors free to focus on policy – just as Cassandra Finch had said they should do 40 years before. They then appointed Cassandra Moorlach to replace the disgraced Citron and work with the new CEO, William Popejoy, to get the ship righted.

It’s unfortunate that the county ignored their two Cassandras, but I am happy to report that while they had no better results with their prognostications than the original, neither suffered the types of calamities that befell her. Finch was a well-liked, well-respected member of the Newport Beach community, and there is a plaque commemorating his many civic contributions at Inspiration Point, designed by his wife. As for Moorlach, he was elected County Treasurer, then County Supervisor and went on to serve in the State Senate. His newest gig is co-hosting Orange County History Hunters, a PBS series delving into the county’s past, but he hasn’t lost his eye for numbers and regularly reviews state and municipal finances. If he ever puts up a shout, hopefully people will ignore any machinations by Apollo and lend an ear to his comments.

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Nancy Gardner, former Mayor of Newport Beach, long-time resident and daughter of Judge Robert Gardner, is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.


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