Fred Smoller

Fred Smoller, who founded the master’s program in public administration at Brandman University, said the program he hoped would add an edge to public accountability in Orange County has been neutered. Brandman’s chancellor said Smoller got worked up over nothing. (Patrick T. Fallon, For The Times / August 30, 2013)

By Jeff Gottlieb
August 31, 2013, 7:44 p.m.

When a pair of graduate students from little-known Brandman University dug out the salaries of top administrators at all 34 cities in Orange County and made them public, they were showered with praise.

Cindy Smith and Janet Voshall testified before the state Legislature, were honored by the county board of supervisors and rode limousines to TV news shows.

“I gave them an award because what they did was ethical, valid and honest,” Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson said. “Anybody that would question whether that was a righteous thing to do, that would immediately put up a red flag that I should be worried about them.”

The students’ work took on greater significance two months later when the Bell scandal erupted, revealing the high salaries of city officials there. The state followed by finding out the salaries of all top municipal officials in California and posting them on the Internet.

But then the gold turned to lead.

Smith and Voshall said the fallout from their work so rankled public officials that they had to move out of the county to find work, and their academic advisor, a 30-year political science professor, resigned his post in protest.

Fred Smoller, who founded the master’s program in public administration at Brandman, accused college leaders of buckling to pressure from conservative local politicians and trampling academic freedom.

“The resignation was the only way I could draw attention to the backdoor politicking that threatened the independence and academic integrity of the MPA program,” Smoller said.

Now, as a new semester begins, Smoller is back at Brandman’s sister school, Chapman University, and says the public administration program he hoped would add an edge to public accountability in Orange County has been neutered.

“The good old boys club is well and lives on,” said Smith, a 47-year-old mother of five. “I didn’t really think that was the case, but it still is.”

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