Just as county supervisors prepare Tuesday to consider a measure seeking to make labor negotiations more transparent, Sheriff union officials are protesting efforts to keep county legal bills on negotiations secret.

Under the Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance, also known as COIN, county supervisors would be required to publicly report any offers and counteroffers discussed in closed session. Supervisors and their staff would also have to report any communication with employee representatives.

When a labor contract is proposed, the county Auditor-Controller would estimate the financial impact of its terms as well as the current contract’s terms, which would then be open to comment from labor groups and the public.

And proposed labor contracts, known as memorandums of understanding, would be posted to the county website at least seven days before they appear on the supervisors’ agenda.

The effort, led by County Supervisor John Moorlach, has drawn intense protests from union leaders who argue that transparency in negotiations shouldn’t just be reserved for labor talks but should apply to all government contracting — including multi-million dollar computer contracts, development deals and land purchases.

This week, Sheriff’s deputy union leaders intensified their protests over the measure alerting media to a 158-pages of redacted legal bills for the law firm working to help county supervisors negotiate with the county’s union on new labor contracts.

Union officials made the request after County Supervisor Todd Spitzer publicly criticized the negotiators hired by county supervisors and noted potential fraud issues related to more than $100,000 in travel expenses.

When union officials requested the legal billings under the state’s public records act, they got back heavily redacted bills.

“It is frustrating that the County is refusing to disclose how it spent nearly a million taxpayer dollars related to employee contract negotiations,” said Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. “That frustration is exacerbated by the fact that the Board of Supervisors is considering an ordinance which purports to be transparent but refuses to be transparent when it comes to spending taxpayer money. Paying your attorneys $100,000 in taxpayer dollars just to commute is hardly a state secret and should not be treated as such.”

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