Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas won unanimous approval Tuesday from a reluctant county Board of Supervisors to expand public corruption investigations, a result of a recent uptick in complaints about officials in the county government.
“Those seem to be on the increase at this point,” Rackauckas told members of the board at its regular meeting. He said the office now has 147 open files and is likely to handle significantly more that the 150 it investigated during all of last year.
“We need to have more people there,” Rackauckas told supervisors.
Rackauckas sought a total of seven positions, including prosecutors, investigators and support staff, which would add $1.1 million to his budget in the upcoming fiscal year.
Making this request required a delicate touch from Rackauckas, given the sensitivity among supervisors over recent scandals at the county and the general tilt toward libertarian thinking in Orange County.
His original request was for a stand-alone public integrity unit, but he had to back away from that and assure officials that they wouldn’t face a rogue prosecution unit hunting for political hides.
“A couple of weeks ago, it seemed like the best idea was to break out what we would refer to as a public integrity unit,” Rackauckas told supervisors. “[But] as I moved forward with this I started getting some questions.”
Local GOP insiders have bad memories of former District Attorney Mike Capizzi, who was especially vigorous in his prosecution of public corruption cases.
County Supervisor Bill Campbell on Tuesday acknowledged meeting with Rackauckas to voice concerns that a special unit would end up going after officials in order to justify its existence.
“I always worry about something that has a very specific title,” Campbell said.
Conservative publisher Jon Fleischman, who is also a member of the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board, also was among those who raised alarm bells.
“I read about this proposal on the Voice of OC, and I reached out to the district attorney,” said Fleischman, who publishes the Flash Report on California politics. “Frankly by the time he and I had connected up, he had already made the decision that while he needed the resources to pursue public corruption cases, he didn’t need to establish a special unit.”
Rackauckas’ biggest challenge Tuesday was addressing the costs. He got around that by saying there wouldn’t be any.
“We’re just asking for positions and not funding,” Rackauckas said.
Rackauckas said his office would fund the positions out of the current share of public safety taxes, known as Proposition 172 funds. He told supervisors that because of a small increase in those funds, he probably would not need any general fund dollars.
“I do have a history of always being within the budget of what we’ve been given,” he said.
That triggered a tense debate with board Chairman John Moorlach, who argued that the county general fund has been subsidizing public safety in recent years. Rackauckas disagreed, and Moorlach promised to present charts to prove the DA wrong.
“Lets just agree to disagree,” Moorlach said.
In other county news, supervisors voted 3-1 with Supervisor Shawn Nelson dissenting to give Interim CEO Bob Franz a 5.5-percent raise while the chief financial officer fills in as CEO.