County to Review Which Public Officials Need to Disclose Financial Interests

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Attorneys for the County of Orange are slated to begin reviewing whether any officials who should be required to file financial disclosures are not doing so.

The review, which includes all employees of the county and many outside agencies, was ordered Tuesday by county supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer, who gave a directive to the county counsel’s office.

“I just literally do not understand why some people do [file disclosures] and some people don’t,” said Spitzer, noting the county supervisors’ role in approving lists of who has to file.

“It’s literally coming to us without a review by legal. So we’re literally on our own,” which is “very scary,” Spitzer said.

If any positions should have been filing the disclosures but weren’t, he added, they should be required to retroactively file.

County supervisors are responsible for approving changes to who has to file financial disclosures, known as form 700s, among employees at the county government and many other outside agencies.

Under state law, positions must be included if their job involves “the making or participation in the making of decisions which may foreseeably have a material effect on any financial interest.”

But, Spitzer said, county attorneys don’t currently review the proposed lists of filers to see if positions are being left out.

As examples, he pointed to the changes that supervisors were being asked to approve on Tuesday.

One set of changes, for the Santa Margarita Water District, called for removing its construction inspector, facilities coordinator and water efficiency administrator as form 700 filers.

Another water district, which outsourced its attorney services, wanted to delete its in-house attorney from the list but not require their outsourced attorney to file, Spitzer said.

He disputed that “[just] because you contract out your counsel do you suddenly not have to file a form 700,” noting that they might have significant stock and real estate investments.

And at the county government’s healthcare plan, CalOptima, Spitzer said there was an effort by staff to lower the disclosure requirements for “significant executives.”

“I just feel like this is a sleeping giant that’s gonna kick us in the head one day,” Spitzer said.  “I hate the words ‘I didn’t know.’ ”

No other supervisors spoke on the matter. 

The proposed changes were approved unanimously, with Spitzer opposing the changes for Santa Margarita Water District and South Coast Water District and its financing authority.

County supervisors are tasked with approving changes to lists of form 700 filers, not only for county agencies but also many other local governments within the county like school districts, community college districts, water districts and courts.

The financial disclosures list officials’ outside income, real estate ownership, stocks and other financial interests.

Individual government agencies decide which of their officials meet the threshold to file form 700s, along with what types of interests they have to disclose.

They then submit any changes to their lists to the county Board of Supervisors for approval. Under state law, county supervisors have the final say on approving those lists, known officially as conflict of interest codes.

When it comes to county employees, department heads submit their lists to county supervisors for approval.

About 2,200 of the county’s roughly 18,000 employees are currently required to file form 700s.

Those positions range from department executives to computer technicians to an executive secretary.

The full list of filers is available in Excel format here and as a PDF here.

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

  • David Zenger

    “It’s literally coming to us without a review by legal. So we’re literally on our own,” which is “very scary,” Spitzer said.

    And yet each one of them have a million dollar office budget to hire competent people to figure it out.