8 Hot Issues to Watch This Week

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Here’s a rundown of the main topics we’ll be tracking this week throughout Orange County.

Is there something happening in your city we should know about? Let us know!

1. Key Hearing in Bustamante Sex Assault Case

After a long hiatus from the headlines, a major hearing in the Carlos Bustamante sexual abuse of female county workers case is scheduled for Monday.

Bustamante, a former county executive who was charged with 12 felonies for alleged sexual misconduct at the county, faces a preliminary hearing to decide whether there’s enough evidence to move forward with a trial.

All of his alleged victims are expected to testify at the hearing in Orange County Superior Court.

The case led to the ouster of several top county executives, as well as a grand jury report alleging that a “culture of harassment” had developed at the county.

In a memo to county workers last week, supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson sought to reassure employees that concrete steps have been taken to prevent harassment and abuse.

“Simply put, the environment under which Mr. Bustamante operated while he was employed here no longer exists,” Nelson wrote.

The preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. in room C55 of the main county courthouse in Santa Ana.

2. County Considers Opening Up Labor Negotiations

At the request of Supervisor John Moorlach, county supervisors are set to consider new requirements for opening labor negotiations to the public.

Under the Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance, also known as COIN, county supervisors would be required to publicly report any offers and counteroffers discussed in closed session. Supervisors and their staff would also have to report any communication with employee representatives.

When a labor contract is proposed, the county Auditor-Controller would estimate the financial impact of its terms as well as the current contract’s terms, which would then be open to comment from labor groups and the public.

And proposed labor contracts, known as memorandums of understanding, would be posted to the county website at least seven days before it appears on the supervisors’ agenda.

A similar ordinance was approved in Costa Mesa in 2012, where Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger says it makes sense from a taxpayer standpoint.

The county’s largest employees union, meanwhile, says they support transparency efforts across the board, which they believe should also apply to negotiations with private sector contractors.

“We think it’s critical for an effective policy to cover contracts with the outside, for-profit companies that receive public money — often with the help of politically connected lobbyists, as well as contracts with the county’s public workforce,” Jennifer Muir, the assistant general manager for the Orange County Employees Association, told the Daily Pilot.

The county supervisors meeting starts Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. Click here for the ordinance’s staff report and documents.

3. Grand Jury Could See A Pay Cut

Last year, amid a series of highly critical reports about top management in county government, Orange County supervisors threatened to cut grand jurors’ pay from $50 per day to $15.

Supervisors ultimately backed down after giving jurors an intense public scolding. 

That proposal, however, is scheduled to come back on Tuesday, with supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson proposing the same cut.

The meeting documents don’t explain why the cut is being proposed. It would lead to minor savings to the county general fund, according to a staff report.

While the proposal includes repealing two county ordinances regarding grand jury compensation, county staff did not attach the text of those ordinances to the agenda.

The county supervisors meeting starts Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

4. More Cities Repeal Sex Offender Bans

Fullerton, Huntington Beach and Yorba Linda this week join the list of Orange County cities pulling back from local bans on sex offenders in parks in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling that said they didn’t comply with state laws.

In 2011, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas championed tough local laws that barred sex offenders from public parks or beaches unless they had permission from law enforcement. But the state Supreme Court overturned such ordinances in April and now Orange County communities are redoing their laws to bring them into line with existing state rules.

Huntington Beach meets Monday at 6 p.m. Click here to read the agenda.

Fullerton, which was in the forefront of adopting strict laws governing sex offender access to parks, holds its public meeting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Click here to view the agenda.

The Yorba Linda City Council also meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Click here to read the agenda.

5. Santa Ana Could Trim Campaign Finance Limits

Santa Ana council members on Tuesday could decide on proposed changes to the city charter for the November ballot, with a proposal on the table to reduce some of the city’s strict limits regarding campaign finance.

Under the current city laws, council members can’t participate in decisions regarding people who have contributed at least $250 to their campaigns in the preceding 12 months.

Additionally, council members and their campaign committees can’t seek contributions of $250 or more from people impacted by a license, permit or other entitlement within three months of the decision.

Now, an ad-hoc committee of three council members is recommending that the council ask voters to eliminate or amending those laws.

While the local laws “appear to be well intentioned they may increase misunderstandings and false accusations by those who don’t fully understand the competing local versus state rules,” a staff report states.

The current rules “are not equally applied or enforced,” it adds.

The proposed charter amendments also include raising the city council’s compensation, and removing the right of department heads to go back to their lower-level job if they’re removed from the higher-level position.

Tuesdays council meeting is set to start at 5:45 p.m. Presentations usually mean the business portion of the meeting usually doesn’t start for at least another hour later.

6. Kelly Thomas Lawsuit Prompts Closed-Door Discussion

The Fullerton city council will meet in closed session Tuesday to discuss the lawsuit filed by Ron Thomas against the city following the July, 2011 beating death of his mentally ill son, Kelly Thomas, by Fullerton police.

Earlier this year a jury acquitted two of the officers of any criminal wrong-doing. Following the verdict, Rackauckas dropped charges against a third officer.

All three no longer are with the police department. The U.S. Attorney’s civil rights division continues its investigation into the actions of city police the night Kelly Thomas was killed.

The closed session begins at 4 p.m.

7. Huntington Beach Debates Directly Electing Its Mayor

Huntington Beach Mayor Matthew Harper will recommend the city council ask voters to approve directly electing the community’s mayor, instead of letting the seven-member city council do it.

Under Harper’s proposal, the mayoral election would be held every four years at the same time voters elect the state’s governor.

His plan still would leave it to the council to elect the mayor pro tem, who fills in when the mayor is unavailable.

Harper, who is running for state Assembly, would have the first Huntington Beach mayor election take place in 2018.

8. Placentia Could Back Veterans Cemetery Bill

The Placentia city council will vote Tuesday on whether to support a bill establishing a state veterans cemetery in Orange County.

Supporters of the cemetery have suggested setting aside land by Irvine’s Great Park, which formerly was the El Toro Marine base. But critics of that plan say it might lower interest in a nearby housing development geared toward Asian buyers, who might consider it bad luck to live near a cemetery.

The closest veterans cemetery is in Riverside County. The veterans cemetery bill is by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton).

The Placentia city council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Click here to view the agenda.

Major Meetings This Week:

Monday

Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Regional Planning and Highways Committee 

Huntington Beach City Council 

Los Alamitos City Council 

La Habra City Council 

Mission Viejo City Council 

Tuesday

Orange County Board of Supervisors 

Brea City Council 

Costa Mesa City Council 

Dana Point City Council 

Fountain Valley City Council 

Fullerton City Council 

Laguna Beach City Council 

Lake Forest City Council 

La Palma City Council 

Placentia City Council 

San Clemente City Council 

Santa Ana City Council 

Tustin City Council 

Yorba Linda City Council 

Wednesday

CalOptima Quality Assurance Committee 

Aliso Viejo City Council 

Thursday

Orange County Housing and Community Development Commission 

Friday

OC Commission to End Homelessness Board 

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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