Leading Ethicist: Jordan Brandman Plagiarized His County Report

Anaheim City Councilman Jordan Brandman at an immigration rally in February. (Photo by: Nick Gerda/Voice of OC)

A report prepared by Anaheim City Councilman Jordan Brandman for Orange County’s clerk-recorder – which contained an entire section that was apparently largely copied from the Wikipedia entry on Orange County – contained clear examples of plagiarism and was problematic “on a number of levels,” a leading government ethics expert said Monday.

Judy Nadler, senior fellow at the Santa Clara University Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, said the report embodies the “exact opposite” of the origin of the phrase “good enough for government work,” which originally implied high standards.

Based on what she’s seen, Nadler questioned whether Orange County has basic contracting protections in place.

“I have no idea how Orange County operates, but if I were presented with this as a public official, I would not be inclined to accept it as it is, because its something that frankly a high school intern could have done, anyone could have done,” Nadler said. “I'm just really curious about what Orange County has as its standards. I'd be really surprised and disappointed to see if you could submit anything you want.”

On Jan. 31, 2012, Brandman was assigned to complete a report on whether the clerk-recorder needs a branch office in western Orange County. The assignment was made under a no-bid contract granted by Brandman's mentor, former Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly. The councilman has already collected $24,000 from the county for draft work that has been heavily criticized as inadequate.

The “context” section of Brandman's report bears a striking resemblance to the Wikipedia entry on Orange County. The specific text in the Wikipedia entry that nearly matches Brandman's report was written over a period of years by several mostly well-known Wikipedia authors. Brandman only cited other “multimedia sources” in the report.

Brandman has received two contract extensions and a $1,500 compensation increase since originally being awarded the contract.

Nadler joins county Supervisors Todd Spitzer and John Moorlach in questioning the contract and report.

Spitzer said that payments should not have been authorized for incomplete draft work. Moorlach has openly questioned whether the councilman's contract to prepare the report was merely a guise by Daly to financially support Brandman with county funds while he campaigned for the Anaheim City Council.

The clerk-recorder's office paid Brandman for submitting the incomplete work in several $4,800 installments during his campaign in 2012.

Brandman reported no other income sources on a statement of economic interests covering the period during his campaign, with the exception of his position as external relations manager at the clerk-recorder's office, a position he vacated the same day he signed the no-bid consulting contract.

Nadler said that how Brandman's contract was awarded, standards regarding work product and compensation and justification for outsourcing the work are all basic questions county leaders should be asking. The arrangement as it stands bears the appearance of an “inside deal,” she said.

Nadler agreed with Spitzer that there should be protections against compensating a consultant for incomplete work product. The work could have been done in phases, Nadler said, but each phase should have been adequately completed in exchange for payments.

Nadler also questioned whether Brandman was the right consultant to handle such a report. Beyond questions about his professional abilities, a report on whether the county department should expand its reach could justifiably be outsourced if the goal is to hire an unbiased consultant uninterested in benefitting the department's employees.

But given that Brandman received his contract the same day he left the county's employ, that reasoning doesn't seem likely in this case, according to Nadler.

“The county has to figure this out. They have to justify putting out the contract awarding the contract in the first place, and they have to come up with a justification for selecting this person in the first place,” Nadler said. “What does a $24,000 contract look like, and what are the qualifications for the people who get these? Because if it doesn't require a lot more than this, I think there are a lot of people who are going to be asking for contracts.”

Brandman and Daly have yet to return phone calls seeking comment.

And so far, Moorlach and Spitzer have been unsatisfied with the answers they've received from interim Clerk-Recorder Renee Ramirez, who has argued that the payments adhered to county policies and that the contract was arranged by Daly, now an assemblyman.

Meanwhile, Moorlach wrote in his regular update Monday that this issue will likely “bubble up” at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek.

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