Supervisors to Discuss Ethics Commission Proposal

Orange County supervisors are scheduled Tuesday to dive into the details of an ethics commission initiative that political watchdog Shirley Grindle wants to put before voters.

In particular, they are slated to discuss a report on the issue put together by their political aides – who have spent the last several weeks gathering testimony from a variety of ethics advocates and enforcers – as well as the ballot proposal by Grindle and Bill Mitchell, the former chairman of Orange County Common Cause.

The report (written by Chris Nguyen, Brian Probolsky, Denis Bilodeau, Paul Walters, and Joel Angeles) takes issue with parts of Grindle’s proposal, particularly regarding who appoints ethics commissioners and how extensive their subpoena powers should be.

Grindle’s proposal calls for the Grand Jurors Association of Orange County to interview and vet applicants for the commission, and then recommend several candidates that county supervisors are limited to choosing from.

The supervisors’ aides, however, say that the commission should follow the standard practice of ethics commissions across California by leaving the screening process to elected officials.

The report also raises legal questions about whether the county can obligate the grand jurors association, which is a non-governmental organization that requires its members to pay dues, to do what the proposal calls for.

As for subpoena power, the aides warned that “caution and great care should be taken when considering subpoena power to a possible ethics commission.”

(Click here to read the political aides’ full report.)

Under Grindle’s sweeping proposal, an ethics commission would enforce not only campaign finance limits for countywide offices, but also receipt of gifts and unethical conduct by managers and employees.

It would also receive tips regarding ethics issues through a hotline, and have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents, such as bank records.

The discussion comes after a prediction from supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer that Grindle’s measure will likely pass if it gets on the ballot.

He and Supervisor Shawn Nelson have been trying to convince Grindle to change aspects of her proposal, with the idea that supervisors could place a mutually agreed-upon measure on the ballot and avoid an expensive signature-gathering campaign by Grindle and her supporters.

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