Orange County's Flack Flap

BUFFING UP A TATTERED image ain't cheap. Especially if you're running bankrupt Orange County. The Board of Supervisors got billed $238,000 for December's last three weeks by Sitrick & Co., a Los Angeles public-relations firm specializing in financially ailing outfits (other clients include America West and Greyhound). Nor will January's bill be small.

Worth it? Michael Sitrick says his firm managed to kill some negative news stories and mute others. His biggest coup may be casting most of the blame on departed county Treasurer Robert Citron. Sitrick, who is accused by a newly elected supervisor of overcharging, argues he is cheaper than other nationally known spinmeisters.

Meanwhile, libraries are closing early, and schools may have to. Sitrick's hefty fee is roughly what the county cut from health care for the poor to help meet debt payments.

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