A recent meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. (Photo by: Violeta Vaqueiro)

Exhausted by their own attempts to craft a lobbyist ordinance that they themselves don’t seem to want but can’t drop either, members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday punted the issue to county Chief Executive Tom Mauk.

Perhaps, supervisors reasoned at their regular meeting Tuesday, Mauk could succeed where they have failed.

With a wry smile, Mauk told supervisors that he and county Counsel Nick Chrisos would come back in two months with a draft ordinance that supervisors could consider for adoption.

Registering lobbyists has been an issue since last summer when Orange County’s grand jury drafted a report, titled “Shadow Government,” (see related document) that criticized county leaders for resisting basic registration requirements that many other counties, including Los Angeles and San Diego, have in place.

That report followed the efforts of former state Sen. Joe Dunn (also chairman of the board for Voice of OC) and the Orange County Employees Association to propose a ballot initiative requiring a much more stringent registration requirement.

County supervisors rejected Dunn’s arguments but responded to his public threat of a potential ballot initiative by trying to draft their own ordinance.

However, the board earlier this month rejected a registry proposal put forth by Supervisor Bill Campbell. Supervisor John Moorlach termed Campbell’s proposal “regulation light,” before casting his no vote.

Tuesday, Supervisors Pat Bates and Shawn Nelson gave it a shot. They proposed a law requiring anyone seeking to influence county leaders on behalf of someone else to register with the county.

“The public wants and has a right to know who are those lobbying the board of supervisors,” said Bates.

But this time the majority of the board thought the proposal was too overarching. While Bates said she wants to make sure that any registration ordinance is “evenhanded” and doesn’t just make professionals register, other supervisors said they don’t want every community activist to have to fill out a form.

Members of the business community, who said they could live with Campbell’s proposal, were more critical of the Bates-Nelson approach.

“This ordinance troubles us quite significantly,” Orange County Business Council CEO Lucy Dunn said. “It expands the definition of lobbyists beyond what any jurisdiction has ever proposed.”

Meanwhile, OCEA communications director Jennifer Muir gave supervisors credit for responding to public concerns.

“We just hope that supervisors keep working on this because it’s clear that the public wants some sort of lobby reform,” said Muir. “They realize the public wants transparency.”

Now it is up to Mauk’s staff to figure out what transparency means to Orange County.

“The devil is in the details,” Campbell said.


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