County Supervisors to Reject Grand Jury Ethics Proposal

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Responding to a grand jury report calling for greater ethics oversight in Orange County government, county supervisors are slated Tuesday to tell jurors they won’t implement their recommendation for a campaign reporting and ethics commission.

“The recommendation will not be implemented because it is not warranted and is not reasonable,” the supervisors’ proposed response states.

It points to its own plan to contract with the state Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce campaign contribution limits as the best option.

“As a result, the recommended efforts are duplicative and costly as the Board has placed a measure on the November ballot to allow the FPPC to prosecute violations of the Orange County Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance pending future legislative authorization.”

In their June report, the grand jury called on the Board of Supervisors to help create a strong, independent county ethics “program” to police the conduct of county officials and lobbyists.

“Ethics bodies work effectively to deter, detect, and punish ethics violations,” said the 29-page detailed report. “Vigorous ethics monitoring and enforcement is necessary to develop and maintain trust in government.”

The supervisors’ proposed response “disagrees wholly” with this finding.

“The effectiveness of the ‘ethics bodies’ is a matter of opinion and difficult to determine. The Grand Jury’s report did not provide any metrics or analysis to explain how ‘effectiveness’ of an ethics body is defined nor did they provide any evidence or examples of said effectiveness,” the proposed response states.

The grand jury also urged supervisors to put the issue before the voters on the next available general election ballot to create an Orange County Campaign Reporting and Ethics Commission, “similar to commissions in other jurisdictions in California.”

It estimated the yearly cost of an ethics commission at about $500,000 or less than 0.01 percent of the county’s total annual budget. The report said the percentage is roughly the same as the far larger city of Los Angeles spends on its ethics commission.

“The potential cost of an ethics body is outweighed by its potential benefits, including coordinated oversight, transparency, independence, and creating an atmosphere of deterrence to law violations and corruption that could contribute to improving overall trust in local government,” the grand jury wrote.

The grand jury also said an independent ethics commission was less likely to be influenced by county supervisors than the FPPC, which would rely on the supervisors for its funding. If supervisors didn’t like what the FPPC was reporting about them, they could cut its funds.

The supervisors twice threatened similar cuts to the grand jury when board members didn’t like the grand jurors’ findings about them.

Click here to read the grand jury report, and click here to read the supervisors’ proposed response.

Tuesday’s supervisors meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. at the county Hall of Administration.

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