OCTA Chief Defends Hiring of Business Council for Audit

Orange County Transportation Authority CEO Will Kempton said today there was nothing wrong with having the Orange County Business Council conduct an “independent” audit of how the agency manages a $12-billion transportation improvement program.

“I think the Orange County Business Council had a large role and a large stake in the Measure M1 program, so no, I do not see a problem there,” said Kempton.

“I sit on that [Business Council] board, and I’m proud to be on that board. … I just do not see a conflict.”

A Voice of OC story published Monday revealed that the Business Council audit team chosen by the OCTA Board of Directors included Stan Oftelie, the father of Andrew Oftelie, who is the OCTA’s financial manager.

The younger Oftelie said he recused himself from work on the contract specifications as soon as he learned his father might be part of the Business Council team. But there is no documentation in Transportation Authority files to confirm a recusal.

Ethics experts at three organizations criticized the contract, saying there were too many ties between the Transportation Authority and the Business Council for taxpayers to be sure the audit was truly independent.

The lack of records regarding Andrew Oftelie’s recusal is the only thing that Kempton said he regrets. “I think our error was in not having some special documentation of that,” he said.

But Kirk O. Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, said there was a larger issue than the younger Oftelie recusing himself.

It’s “laughable,” he said, to conclude that a father’s judgment would be impartial when the work involved his son.

The Business Council’s analysis generally focused on improvements to the 57 Freeway. It paid scant attention to issues like cuts in bus service. It’s unknown what issues, if any, were omitted from the audit because of the overlapping interests of the Business Council and the Transportation Authority.