After hawkish talk about cutting off funding for Orange County’s Office of Independent Review earlier this month, county supervisors quickly balked last week during budget adoption when publicly confronted by Sheriff Sandra Hutchens about the need for some sort of independent civilian oversight over police actions.
They quickly pivoted to something that really catches their eye.
Hutchens all but told supervisors that if they cut off funding for OIR without a plan for something else, they’d be setting themselves up for a federal takeover of the jail system at some point.
You could see in open session that the statement shook them, and supervisors immediately backed up.
“We cannot do without a office of OIR,” said Supervisor Andrew Do. “It sends a bad message to the public and state and federal agencies.”
“There will be this assumption that we don’t want to know the truth and we are hiding things,” Do said.
Yet that’s exactly correct. They don’t want the truth. And they are hiding things. And as with most departments they oversee, supervisors just aren’t prepared to talk shop.
While Hutchen’s statements enraged the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriff’s, the move worked brilliantly in that it revealed that supervisors hadn’t really given much thought to what they would replace OIR with.
That’s increasingly par for the course for a board of supervisors seemingly allergic to homework and hooked on politics and ideology.
Consider that despite all the intense debate over OIR during the budget, not one supervisor at last week’s debate came prepared to talk about options.
Civilian review? OIR? Ethics commission?
Note that this is all happening is in the midst of a heated – and private – debate going on between the Sheriff’s Department and the federal government over the use of choke holds in Orange County.
Not one supervisor even asked one public question about why Orange County Deputy Sheriffs are in a confrontation with the Department of Justice over their use of force policy.
They also didn’t ask the deputies union about their opinion that Hutchens is risking officer safety by tinkering with choke hold policy to try to meet DOJ concerns.
That’s the one and only nugget provided by OIR in it’s buried, public reports on it’s website.
Supervisors also didn’t ask one question about all the recent jail and sheriff department struggles in Los Angeles – where Hutchens was a senior leader before taking over in OC – and how all of their so-called independent oversight mechanisms apparently failed.
The reality for residents and voters is there is no independent oversight of any sheriff’s department.
When it comes to oversight, there are only elections every four years for county supervisors and the sheriff along with the annual budget adoption.
Judging from this year’s process, voters should probably fire them all.
Consider that after punting the whole OIR debate last week, county supervisors went back to their favorite topic.
Faced with an onslaught of county supervisors looking to use county departments like OC Parks as promotional machines, county bureaucrats came up with the idea of setting up an "Events Czar" to help supervisors adeptly use the county bureaucracy to campaign.
It’s something the last board of supervisors – led by former Supervisor, now state Sen. Janet Nguyen – excelled at.
And you could see that the party planning debate really got these current county supervisors excited like nothing else.
Cymantha Atkinson, who directs governmental and community relations at the county CEO’s office, announced to supervisors that the new events chief and calendar would “give us a larger presence in the community.”
Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer announced that before seeing the unified calendar of events, he had no idea that a $6 billion county government bureaucracy was “engaged in so many activities.”
Supervisors like south county’s Lisa Bartlett immediately scrambled on the dais to ask for more time so supervisors can add plenty of events to the party list.
That should come back by July 21.
Yet don’t hold your breath on the new events chief.
Supervisors won’t be back until July 14 because after all with all the Fourth of July events around the corner, how could anyone leading our government not be expected to take two weeks off?