OCTA Executive Committee Votes to Stop Board’s ‘Revolving Door’

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The Orange County Transportation Authority Executive Committee voted unanimously Monday in favor of a new policy that would prohibit public board members from quitting and then immediately lobbying ex-colleagues on behalf of a company trying to influence board policy.

However, there is already one problem. Even if the policy is adopted by the full OCTA board, there is no way to enforce it.

Nonetheless, county Supervisor Pat Bates, who sponsored the new policy, said it sends an important message to anyone who sits on the OCTA board that his or her colleagues oppose such behavior.

“I don’t see any problem with the board members embracing it,” Bates said. “It’s good, accountable government.”

The so-called “revolving door” practice was highlighted last month when Voice of OC reported that former OCTA board member Peter Buffa abruptly resigned from OCTA earlier this year and within weeks was greeting former colleagues in New York in his new position with the investment firm Barclays Capital.

State law makes it illegal for elected officials to try to influence former colleagues within a year after leaving boards like OCTA.

The intent of the 2005 law, according to a legislative analysis, is to “address situations whereby former elected officers and other officials return to represent clients who have business before or are seeking to influence policy decisions made by their former agencies.”

But a loophole in the law allows nonelected members to go from representing the public on one day to lobbying board members the next.

The new policy would put the same restrictions on public members as are applied to elected officials. Local boards have the authority to enact more stringent conflict of interest provisions than are spelled out in state laws.

However, since this is new OCTA policy rather than a state law like the lobbying ban on elected officials, board members said there would be no way to enforce the policy on someone who has left the board.

This issue could be solved if state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) decides to introduce legislation that would include public members of local governing boards in the statewide lobbying ban.

— TRACY WOOD

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