County Officials Could Have to Disclose Social Relationships With Contractors

Orange County Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer announced an effort Tuesday to require county staff to disclose social relationships with proposed contractors, pointing to a District Attorney contract and recent controversy over nearly $1 million in no-bid parks contracts as examples where friends are helping friends get county contracts.

“We’re not running a $6 billion county like some kid operating a lemonade stand,” Spitzer said at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting, his first since becoming chairman.

“We have huge responsibilities as supervisors and we cannot tolerate if there’s people that are applying for county contracts” and know people here “and we don’t know what’s going on.”

The move comes amid concerns about the discretion delegated to county department heads for contracting, along with longstanding concerns about crucial information being missing from staff reports.

Spitzer directed staff to draft a policy requiring that past and current professional and personal relationships be disclosed with vendors up for approval.

That “checklist” would include a list of vendor employees who have been county employees, and retirees receiving public pensions who will be working on the contract.

Spitzer’s calling it the “Iqbal/Brajdic policy,” after former OC Parks Deputy Director Michael Brajdic and his grad school friend, Ahmad Iqbal.

According to county auditors, Brajdic steered $913,000 in no-bid contracts to Iqbal’s firm, with the contracts being intentionally split up to avoid board scrutiny.

Both Brajdic and Iqbal refused to be interviewed by county auditors, and the matter is under investigation by an outside attorney for possible discipline against top officials, including the county’s chief operating officer, Mark Denny, who was in charge of the parks department during the scandal.

There has been “significant fallout and issues” that are unresolved from the Iqbal contracts, Spitzer noted.  “It’s very, very serious.”

No other supervisors spoke about Spitzer’s proposal, which is expected to come up again at next Tuesday’s meeting.

In his justification for the policy, Spitzer also cited a proposed contract by the DA’s office, which was originally up for approval Tuesday.  It called for outsourcing background investigations to the firm RCS Investigations & Consulting for $85,000 per year.

The contract’s staff report, which was co-written by the DA’s investigations chief, Craig Hunter, didn’t note any past relationships between himself and the proposed vendor.

But Spitzer said Hunter worked with an RCS partner, Steve Rodig – who would be the firm’s manager for the contract – when both were supervisors at the Anaheim Police Department.

Hunter, who was recommending the RCS contract, oversaw Anaheim’s gang unit while Rodig supervised robbery and homicide in 1993, according to Spitzer.

And when Hunter was Anaheim’s deputy chief in April 2012, the department recommended RCS for a fee increase at the city, for a rate of $105 per hour for standard investigative services.

(Click here to read Spitzer’s research [large file size].)

Spitzer said Hunter’s past working relationship with Rodig should have been noted in the staff report.

This “doesn’t mean there’s any impropriety, it just means we should know about it,” said Spitzer.

The DA’s office declined to speak to Spitzer’s concerns.

Spitzer had other frustrations with the DA’s staff report.

It lacked an analysis of why the DA’s background investigations, which are currently handled by Hunter’s investigators, should be outsourced to a private firm, Spitzer said.

And, Spitzer noted, the report didn’t say whether the DA’s office had checked if existing background investigations staff at the probation and sheriff’s departments can take on the DA’s workload.

Additionally, Spitzer wondered if the contract would run afoul of the state’s pension reform law because a partner or owner in the firm, Randy Sorley, is a retired DA investigator at the county.

The pension law, known as PEPRA, sets rules on whether the county can hire former employees as direct employees.  Spitzer said he’s asked whether that law applies to this contract, but that it hasn’t been answered.

“It’s very disconcerting when you start seeing all these relationships that go on for decades, and you have no idea,” said Spitzer, who was careful to say he was “in no way alleging any misconduct, impropriety whatsoever.”

A decision on the RCS contract was delayed to next Tuesday, at the request of the DA’s office.  The written request didn’t cite a reason.

With Spitzer’s directive, the county is entering new territory for county officials reporting conflicts of interest, which goes beyond state law.

It’s not yet clear what the consequences would be for failing to disclose relationships, along with what the specific threshold would be for a relationship to have to be disclosed.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.