Smoller/Grindle: Time is Now for an Ethics Commission

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Orange County is the only major metropolitan jurisdiction in California that does not have an Ethics Commission.

Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Oakland, Ventura County, Kern County and San Bernardino County all do.

These oversight groups were established because of the need to properly enforce local campaign contribution limits. They also oversee conflicts of interest, lobbyist activities and gifting of public officials.

The Orange County Grand Jury and private individuals have repeatedly asked the Orange County Board of Supervisors to set up an Ethics Commission but the Supervisors have steadfastly refused.

The need for an Ethics Commission is vividly illustrated by the felony conviction of former Sheriff Mike Carona, which took federal authorities to bring about, and the sexual harassment charges against Carlos Bustamante, the former head of the Public Works Department and former Santa Ana City Councilman. These charges festered for years because the victims, who were county employees, were reluctant to report the offenses because they feared retaliation.

Recently, the entire District Attorney’s office was disqualified from prosecuting an admitted mass murderer by a Superior Court Judge because it illegally used jailhouse informants and hid information from the defense.

A scandal is presently brewing in the OCParks department in which top officials are accused of awarding contracts to friends. Independent auditors have said the county’s in-house investigation will be disqualified because it is “riddled with serious conflicts of interest.”

Also, there is currently little enforcement of the county’s Campaign Reform Ordinance (TINCUP) by the District Attorney.

Nor is there any oversight of either the Gift Ban or the Lobbyist Registration Ordinances.

And there is no recourse available, other than the District Attorney’s office, to file any complaint of ethics violations.

For these reasons, a group of citizens have written an ordinance to establish an independent, non-partisan Ethics Commission tasked with overseeing ethics and campaign law violations by county elected and appointed officials and county employees.

The proposed Commission would:

• Receive campaign reports and track contributions of all county elected officials and candidates for county office
• Receive and review complaints alleging violations of county laws related to campaign finance, the gift ban, lobbyist registration and the code of ethics
• Enforce provisions of these laws
• Refer serious violations to other appropriate enforcement agencies

This group will request the Board of Supervisors to place this ordinance on the
November 2016 ballot.

Should they decline to do so, there will be no alternative except to run a county-wide initiative which is estimated to cost around $200,000.

If you are disgusted with the current “business as usual” county political scene and believe an Ethics Commission is needed, please help this effort by contributing to:

Citizens for Orange County Ethics Commission
1537 E. Chapman Ave.
Orange, Calif.92866

ethicscommission4oc.nationbuilder.com/

  • Kathleen M. Conwell-Doyle

    As a member of the first Grand Jury to call for the establishment of a County ethics commission (2012-2013), I’m here to tell you that the need has to do with unethical behavior that goes well beyond campaign finance etc. Having sat in on ethics commission meetings in Los Angeles, I can say that the issues they addressed were timely and as relevant to OC as they are to LA. Why are our elected (and hired) officials so afraid of and resistant to oversight? Read: ocgrandjury.org ‘A Call For Ethical Standards: Corruption in Orange County’ for a look back in time. Then let’s move forward.

    • David Zenger

      Thanks for you good work back then. The Board sure gave you a rough time, an indication that the nerve you struck needed some striking.

      • Kathleen M. Conwell-Doyle

        Thanks, David. We tried!

  • Robert Slayton

    This is long overdue. OC needs to have commonplace, legitimate standards for honest dealing in politics.

    • David Zenger

      Robert, the problem is not lack of honesty in politics. There never has been any. The problem is the pollution of governance by politics.

      Therefore what we need is to introduce ethics into governance. I just don’t see how a commission is going to accomplish that.

  • David Zenger

    No, sorry. We don’t need an Ethics Commission to make sure this handful of people fill out their campaign reporting forms properly.

    The first step is get grandstanders like Spitzer to acknowledge that ethics in government has almost nothing to do with filling out campaign reporting paperwork right and on time. The real ethics problem is the way the Board deliberately excuses or helps cover up incompetence or misfeasance on the part of the higher executives (many of whom got their jobs by political wheedling); and in return the staff abandons any pretense of professional objectivity and works diligently to promote the self-aggrandizing projects of the Supervisors. This is the Mauk Doctrine.

    Consider the case of the acquisition of 433 W. Civic Center by Tom Daly, approved unanimously by the BOS, fraudulently using over $2 million of Fund 12D money. It was all based on withheld information from the Board – the property was derelict. Instead, the staff report said the building was in “reasonably well-maintained condition” and that repairs would be minor. It was all lie, later covered up by County Counsel and Tom Mauk’s crew, obviously with the tacit assent of the Board – whose staff members were too damn lazy to cross the street and look at the building.

    Did the Board ever act to reprimand or punish anybody for this swindle of the County Recorder’s customers? Of course not.

    • OCservant_Leader

      Zenger- makes a good point. The corruption is deep – way past the politicians but of course we need an Ethics Commission!

      What about a Civil Service Commission or some kind of Personnel department that follows any rules or laws? If they can keep placing their relatives then they can control the information. A few doses of Sunshine and the gig is up.

      433 W Civic Center – is the poster child of the large scale fraud being orchestrated by the collusion of the politicians and bureaucracy.

      Somebody is holding 2 Million tax dollars….who is it? I want to know! Thanks for bringing this up- let’s stay on it. We need a website to collect all the info on this one.

      Investigative journalism could uncover who it is…I would bet it is the very managers who sheparded it through the process. The Band of Brothers ! They are very bolden. Most are retired…but how many are still collecting checks as retirees??

      I don’t believe the citizens have to sit and watch helplessly as their own government has turned into a third world fiefdom run by gangs.

      I think social media is going to crack this thing wide open. We need employees to speak up and once we get information being released in real time – we can catch them at the front end. OC Wiki Leaks!

      • Lyanna Lyns

        There are employees who desperately try to speak. They go to Federal and State offices, to police and DFEH. What the County does to them is an insidious, vicious destruction of their good name, their reputation, their ability to earn a living and their health. The “investigative press”? Don’t make me laugh. You know what VoC and the Register and all those guys do? They call up their buddies at the County offices, and those people tell them that it is just another crazy/disgruntled/stupid/moneygrubbing loser trying to make a buck, and these fools swallow it, hook, line and sinker. They never talk to the employee, themselves, or look at the boxes of documents that they have for evidence. Do you really think that Santana and his ilk are ACTUALLY going to bite the filthy hand that feeds them? Puh-leeze. I know of workers who have had the courage to go to VoC and the others, only to be ignored, because it isn’t sexy enough. Some dingdong at HR says anything bad about the person who is fighting the corruption, and these “investigative reporters” run like little girls, and just let the corruption flow. Every time I see one of these op-eds, I roll my eyes. Ethics commission, pleeeeeze. Stop using big words you don’t know the meaning of, Norberto.

        • OCservant_Leader

          I think you have made really good points. The corruption has got out of hand due to zero news coverage by the OCR. In the past all we had was the media to dig past the lies.

          Times are a changing

          • Lyanna Lyns

            Hope they have lots of space, because there are hundreds.

          • Jen

            I know of many employees and former employees who have stories to tell of mismanagement so this will be a big step forward to honesty.

        • OCservant_Leader

          I do agree with you don’t get me wrong. But – Norberto IS putting the rotting animal shelter squarely on the Agency Head – Steve Franks who is arguably one of the most powerful EA-s bureaucrats – who wants us to believe he doesn’t have the political juice to build a shelter for abused animals?? Come on!

          His personal wealth has multiplied – how much? Salary should be tied to performance…(I learned this at Supervisor Camp) he gets a F – for the animal shelter…so should he get a bonus? These are the dots that need to be connected.

          Why should we wait for some PR spun PowerPoint they manufacture- to tell us what is going on? The employees know and have you ever been a public customer of that shelter? My friend went through the barking dog ordinane fiasco – Oh my god – good luck.

          No one is holding these Agency Directors accountable! He works for us! HIS annual salary alone (not including wives) is more then enough to serve these abused animals!

          • Lyanna Lyns

            Franks is a piker, next to Ryan.

      • David Zenger

        “Somebody is holding 2 Million tax dollars….who is it?”

        The property owner was the Silva Family Trust. You can’t blame them for scoring off a government that was intent on foisting Tom Daly’s vanity project on us. The County actually commissioned an appraisal that backed up the building’s worth with non-comparable “comps” that ignored the building’s lack of structural integrity and modern utlities and non-compliance with ADA.

        The building sold at the top of the market in 2005 for $1.5 million. By 2007-8 as the real estate market was tanking the building somehow gained over 1/3 in value. Only at the County of Orange.

        The corruption came later when Tom Mauk lied to the Board (or to be precise, the public) by telling them that it was a valuable addition to the County’s real estate portfolio; he also lied about potential parking revenue.

        County Counsel by then had cocked up the ridiculous argument that buying a building to store paper documents served the purposes of the relevant Fund 12D legislation, which is to fund “technological improvements.” Later, the Internal Auditor happily went along with that convenient nonsense.

        Rick Francis and I got the whole 12D matter onto the Audit Oversight Committee agenda. By the time Peter Hughes quit messing around Daly was gone.

        The other architect of this disaster, Jean Pasco, is still employed by the County as their official spokesperson – a job, unlike her last one, that obviously requires no professional training.

        No one really wants to look into the matter because Fund 12D was also fraudulently used by Daly to kickback millions into the General Fund over 10 years. Nobody really knows exactly how much because all the Clerk-Recorder’s revenue was deliberately co-mingled, but the total is probably well over $10,000,000. As former Budget Director, Frank Kim may have an inkling. Maybe Norberto can ask him.

        • OCservant_Leader

          Great detail! Yes – Daly and WHO at Public Works? Who was his buddy that carried the ball through public works?

          Yes! Jean Pasco was charged with trying to fill it up with “records”. I heard a story about that one.

          So here are (4) County Officials who (if proven) committed fraud with this transaction. That is worth pursuing – is there a time limit on public corruption?

          Do you know why the building was abandoned to begin with by the government? How many times can the County buy and sell the same building? There must be a tale there. Was it full of Abspestus? Was it a County “sick” building…what is the deal?

          We know it was inhabitable when they paid 2 million for it – that is a fact. wow – this in incredible.

          You teased us about building #16-?… is that the one where the clerk whited out the square footage years after purchase and the public works managers who owned the building – scammed another Million ?

          • David Zenger

            I don’t remember everybody who got that memorandum from June 2007, but a guy named Michael Stein did, and so did Bob Wilson. I recall there were 6 or seven people on the cc line, and they all had to keep their mouths shut to make this deal go through. Obviously somebody in charge ordered the memo to be withheld from the Board. This is the bald fact that Mauk never addressed and that Peter Hughes was afraid to touch. The thing was characterized as some sort of harmless oversight.

            Hilariously, a year or so later Daly paid an outside consultant (one hundred K as I recall, probably with 12D money, too) to do an assessment of the building that was already purchased! The result was basically a confirmation of what the Public Works memo from 2007 already said – millions to repair. It is a tear down.

            The building was never abandoned. It was simply cleared out of paying tenants and never occupied. It couldn’t really be used for paper records either – except in the basement and the partial 1st Floor slab on grade – the crappy wood framed structure couldn’t carry the heavy loads. In 2012 Daly contrived to make the building looked lived in by having some work done on it and moving in some boxes of crap. I believe Pasco was in charge of that little charade.

            Building 16 is the County building that was abandoned 20 years ago and sits empty as homeless people camp out next to it. It is a perfectly sound structure (basement was a fallout shelter). The County paid a bunch of money to study its demolition then found they couldn’t afford to knock it down.

            Janey Nguyen came up with the bright idea that developers could be miked for campaign contributions in a competition to build a brand new $200,000,000 admin building on the site basically using the County’s financing ability to build a structure that would be leased back to the County.

            The idiots in the Public Works Real Estate crew were put in charge of keeping that dream alive. I don’t what happened tothe scam except that Roger Torriero/Griffen Structures got the deal and then almost immediately put in for a half million request to do a use study to confirm the need to do the new facility – a total violation of County policy – as County Counsel well knew.

          • OCservant_Leader

            There is so much here…I don’t know where to begin.

            Would you agree that these scams are planned in advance – then they look for the “right” time to shove it through? Another scandal going on maybe?

            CEO Mauk & Supes feigned the ” I’m surprised by County staff routine”? But they were all in the know about it? It’s right there literally in their backyard?

            You can speak best to the shenanigans played out in public board meetings. Aren’t those orchestrated in advance?

            Look at how many steps it took. This would be a good lesson for civics students to map an anatomy of a fraud – right? It takes many different players (playing for the same team) to pull off.

            12D Fund – mismanagement (for a decade??)
            Budget Manager – Frank Kim says nothing?
            Auditor- Hughes can’t seem to find…anything?
            Public works crew lead by Stein & Wilson (Band of Brothers)
            Fake appraisal (increased in value during recession?)
            CEO Mauk – said Info was withheld? Huh?
            County Council – opinion said ok if put some boxes in there
            Staff – Archivesf/campaign spokeswoman try to fill bldg boxes/records
            Board of Sup – Nguyen claimed ownership of all in her district
            = equals 2 Million profit to Silva Family Trust for a building that must be demolished?

            And no one is accountable?
            Really?

          • David Zenger

            Sorry, nobody is paying me to take the time to sort out the incompetence from the malfeasance.

  • OCservant_Leader

    YES! Move forward with County Initiative!! Hallelujah!

    There are no checks and balances in OC- the three branches of government are all in collusion and they are running amok!

    We cannot allow politicians to police their own. The temptation for corruption is too great and citizens must monitor and hold them accountable.

    I encourage anyone who is not part of the OC Elite to get involved!