Nothing on Tuesday’s Orange County Board of Supervisors agenda — a multi-million airport concession contract, pay givebacks to supervisors and executives — animated Supervisor Shawn Nelson more than the idea of sending high-level sheriff’s deputies on a charity mission to Canada.

With both his lone dissenting vote and his comments from the dais, Nelson made it clear that he is not happy with the Sheriff’s Department’s participation in Dreamlifts, a program run by the Canadian charity Sunshine Foundation that sends seriously ill and disabled children to Disneyland.

Every other year for the past 25 years, a small group of high-ranking deputies have traveled to Canada in January to spend a week raising money for the program with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The Sunshine Foundation pays all of the deputies’ travel and lodging, but they need to be in uniform while they are doing the fundraising and therefore have to be on the clock. Their time costs the county about $10,000, according to David Wilson, a Sheriff’s Department commander.

However, Wilson said, the deputies do not spend the entire time fundraising, so they are also able to do some work for the department remotely.

Nonetheless, Nelson said he is against the program, if only on principal.

“It’s hard to call out this particular program without suffering the scrutiny … and at the risk of being accused of that, I just have to say I cannot, in good conscience, be in support of sending people on county time to be in an ambassador program,” he said.

“It does not serve a law enforcement purpose to Orange County.”

This is not the first time the program has raised the ire of a supervisor. In fact, based on comments made yesterday, just about every member of the current group criticized program when he or she was new to the dais.

But it seems that the others have realized a benefit in Dreamlifts, or at least have grown uncomfortable speaking out against a nominal contribution to a program that gives the most unfortunate of children a chance to experience Disneyland.

“I was where you are now, Supervisor Nelson, when I first saw this,” said Supervisor Pat Bates. “I’m not seeing it as a value subtracted that the taxpayers are paying for, but a value added in creating an ambassadorship.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Campbell also said that he had a similar reaction earlier in his tenure on the dais.

“It allows them to create additional contacts — for lack of a better word,” Campbell said.

Wilson, who is one of the deputies sent to Canada, defended the program, saying, “I would invite you Mr. Nelson and your staff … to see the kids come off the airplane and see how beneficial it is.”

Nelson responded: “The suggestion is that if you don’t support this, you don’t understand it or believe it. I do … up until I ask Joe Q. Taxpayer to pay for it.”


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