Ethics and IT headlined the second debate among candidates vying for an open county supervisors seat during a Thursday forum hosted by the Orange County Public Affairs Association.
Former State Senator Lou Correa set himself apart as the only candidate in the race who openly supports an ethics commission for Orange County local government.
“Absolutely yes, we do need an ethics commission…the more eyes that are looking at our election system the better,” Correa said in response to a question from the forum’s moderator, Martin Wisckol, the Orange County Register’s Politics Editor.
Correa said such a commission could fill a gap left by agencies like the state Fair Political Practices Commission, Federal Bureau of Investigation, District Attorney and Grand Jury, the latter which he described as lacking time and resources to properly investigate issues.
“Citizens come to us every day…and I say, report them. They say, nothing happens. Maybe that’s where we need to go — an ethics commission that responds immediately to citizen complaints,” said Correa, who been endorsed by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
Andrew Do, who served as chief of staff for the first district under State Sen. Janet Nguyen, said he would need to know more about any commission, its powers and funding before he would vote for one.
“Are we going into a direction of having special prosecution power with unlimited resources that the county has to provide?” Do said.
He also said that, even if he accepted the assumption “of not trusting the DA’s office to do their job,” he wouldn’t necessarily trust an independent commission, given that politicians would likely appoint the commission members, said Do, a former deputy district attorney.
“I’m all for [transparency], but what does that mean?” Do said.
Garden Grove City Councilman Chris Phan, who also works as a deputy district attorney, raised similar questions about the potential powers and effectiveness of an ethics commission, as well as how board members might vote.
“The most important thing is to elect officials who know right from wrong…who, when they make a mistake, it’s because they don’t know the right thing to do,” Phan said. “A mistake that can be made by humans, not actual, intentional misconduct.”
Wisckol also asked candidates their view on privatization of services on the county level, pointing to the county’s issues with large, unexpected cost overruns in its no-bid contracts with large information technology firms.
Contract extensions and change orders have cost the county millions of unbudgeted dollars, persuading both union leaders and supervisors that computer contracting has been mismanaged.
The Orange County Employees Association recently complained about the county’s contract with IBM, saying “they could have done the job more efficiently but weren’t given the option to compete with private companies that were bidding for it,” Wisckol said.
“There’s an important role for private contracts for government [but] it should not be ideological, it’s a question of need,” Correa said.
“Why not put out two or three one-million dollar contracts [instead of 100 million] and see which of those work,” Correa said. “This is one area where money is spent very quickly, and sometimes very ineffectively.”
Do also suggested putting smaller contracts out for bid.
“Within IT you have certain components that are very transitory, [change] year to year. And then you have the maintenance side, which is constant, to keep computers running,” Do said.
As to privatization in general, Do said the question is one of, “what expertise do we need.”
“I don’t know if we can keep it in house if that expertise evolves quickly,” Do said.
Phan said privatization should be done whenever possible, except in certain areas where the county is particularly liable, such as law enforcement.
A fourth candidate, Lupe Morfin-Moreno, also participated in Thursday’s event. Two other candidates, Chuyen Van Nguyen and Mark I. Lopez, could not be reached for participation, according to event organizers.
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