County Officials Could Have to Disclose Social Relationships With Contractors

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Orange County Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer announced an effort Tuesday to require county staff to disclose social relationships with proposed contractors, pointing to a District Attorney contract and recent controversy over nearly $1 million in no-bid parks contracts as examples where friends are helping friends get county contracts.

“We’re not running a $6 billion county like some kid operating a lemonade stand,” Spitzer said at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting, his first since becoming chairman.

“We have huge responsibilities as supervisors and we cannot tolerate if there’s people that are applying for county contracts” and know people here “and we don’t know what’s going on.”

The move comes amid concerns about the discretion delegated to county department heads for contracting, along with longstanding concerns about crucial information being missing from staff reports.

Spitzer directed staff to draft a policy requiring that past and current professional and personal relationships be disclosed with vendors up for approval.

That “checklist” would include a list of vendor employees who have been county employees, and retirees receiving public pensions who will be working on the contract.

Spitzer’s calling it the “Iqbal/Brajdic policy,” after former OC Parks Deputy Director Michael Brajdic and his grad school friend, Ahmad Iqbal.

According to county auditors, Brajdic steered $913,000 in no-bid contracts to Iqbal’s firm, with the contracts being intentionally split up to avoid board scrutiny.

Both Brajdic and Iqbal refused to be interviewed by county auditors, and the matter is under investigation by an outside attorney for possible discipline against top officials, including the county’s chief operating officer, Mark Denny, who was in charge of the parks department during the scandal.

There has been “significant fallout and issues” that are unresolved from the Iqbal contracts, Spitzer noted.  “It’s very, very serious.”

No other supervisors spoke about Spitzer’s proposal, which is expected to come up again at next Tuesday’s meeting.

In his justification for the policy, Spitzer also cited a proposed contract by the DA’s office, which was originally up for approval Tuesday.  It called for outsourcing background investigations to the firm RCS Investigations & Consulting for $85,000 per year.

The contract’s staff report, which was co-written by the DA’s investigations chief, Craig Hunter, didn’t note any past relationships between himself and the proposed vendor.

But Spitzer said Hunter worked with an RCS partner, Steve Rodig – who would be the firm’s manager for the contract – when both were supervisors at the Anaheim Police Department.

Hunter, who was recommending the RCS contract, oversaw Anaheim’s gang unit while Rodig supervised robbery and homicide in 1993, according to Spitzer.

And when Hunter was Anaheim’s deputy chief in April 2012, the department recommended RCS for a fee increase at the city, for a rate of $105 per hour for standard investigative services.

(Click here to read Spitzer’s research [large file size].)

Spitzer said Hunter’s past working relationship with Rodig should have been noted in the staff report.

This “doesn’t mean there’s any impropriety, it just means we should know about it,” said Spitzer.

The DA’s office declined to speak to Spitzer’s concerns.

Spitzer had other frustrations with the DA’s staff report.

It lacked an analysis of why the DA’s background investigations, which are currently handled by Hunter’s investigators, should be outsourced to a private firm, Spitzer said.

And, Spitzer noted, the report didn’t say whether the DA’s office had checked if existing background investigations staff at the probation and sheriff’s departments can take on the DA’s workload.

Additionally, Spitzer wondered if the contract would run afoul of the state’s pension reform law because a partner or owner in the firm, Randy Sorley, is a retired DA investigator at the county.

The pension law, known as PEPRA, sets rules on whether the county can hire former employees as direct employees.  Spitzer said he’s asked whether that law applies to this contract, but that it hasn’t been answered.

“It’s very disconcerting when you start seeing all these relationships that go on for decades, and you have no idea,” said Spitzer, who was careful to say he was “in no way alleging any misconduct, impropriety whatsoever.”

A decision on the RCS contract was delayed to next Tuesday, at the request of the DA’s office.  The written request didn’t cite a reason.

With Spitzer’s directive, the county is entering new territory for county officials reporting conflicts of interest, which goes beyond state law.

It’s not yet clear what the consequences would be for failing to disclose relationships, along with what the specific threshold would be for a relationship to have to be disclosed.

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

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  • Smeagel4T

    I can definitely see the problem here. Apparently county staff doesn’t realize the supervisors are supposed to extract campaign contributions from these people/companies before any kickbacks are handed out. There is clearly a problem with county staff bypassing the proper money “etiquette”.

    Save honest capitalism. Get money out of politics.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Good Idea adding vendor campaign contributions. As far as declaring “social relationships” goes I think that is open to easy humorous manipulation – the BOS will just insert “friends” they don’t know, they will be proxy friends.I think this is faked drama to set the stage for the players to pretend to care about their favorite overused and very tired exhausted buzz word – transparency.These people would not know transparency if they could see it.

  • David Zenger

    I wonder if the Supervisors will be disclosing their social relationships with vendors, particularly of the “sole source” variety.

    And wouldn’t it be fun if, before a vote on a contract, each Supervisor had to disclose how much that particular vendor contributed to his campaign fund.

    • Smeagel4T

      Can we get them to wear NASCAR coats with their corporate sponsors’ logos on them?

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Smacks of grandstanding. I find it really strange that Spitzer is referring to this proposed policy as the “Iqbal/Brajdic policy”, why did he not add the name “Denny” and his boss “Giancola”? And, as to this issue – what fallout? Who was fired, sent to jail, disciplined, so far nobody. Where are the consequences? I have sincere doubts that the BOS will ever come close to implementation of this policy. Maybe there will be a “study” or a “task force” to shove this under the carpet and suffocate it totally. Spitzer will woefully say he “tried.” The BOS does not really want this stuff open to the light of day. My bet’s are on Giancola never returning and Kim taking over permanently as the CEO. When it comes to contract and pay to play the folks at the top have plenty to hide.
    Spitzer : ” We are not running a lemonade stand.” Right, you are all running an “Orange Juice” stand. Those with the juice get the money and the contracts. His quote was close but no banana.