Santana: OC Supervisors Get Ethics

The ink was barely dry on a proposed county ethics plan last Friday before allegations of political foul play were already at fever pitch.

Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer called out Supervisor Andrew Do as a plagiarist on the issue.

Do shot right back at Spitzer in a phone interview with me late Friday, accusing him of “straight out dishonesty” about the timestamps on submitted legislation for the ethics panel, calling him a “liar” – and promising a public confrontation on Tuesday’s public dais.

All of this comes as Orange County supervisors appear poised to approve a county ethics commission Tuesday, with a majority seemingly willing – after years of resistance – to create a county agency with subpoena powers and tasked with regulating and enforcing local campaign finance rules passed in 1978 – called TINCUP (Time is Now, Clean Up Politics), and widely considered among the strongest at the local level.

After lengthy negotiations and collaboration with proponents of an ongoing ballot initiative to establish an ethics panel, Spitzer and Supervisor Shawn Nelson on Friday introduced an ordinance to establish an ethics panel.

That ordinance immediately received the full support of the citizens’ ballot drive led by longtime campaign finance activist (and TINCUP author) Shirley Grindle, Chapman professors Mario Mainero and Fred Smoller and attorney Bill Mitchell, a longtime Common Cause leader in Orange County.

The ordinance would set up a staffed, 5-member Ethics Commission and amend the county’s charter and campaign finance ordinance to allow the panel to enforce those laws. A key component of the commission, all agree, would be to engage and educate primarily and view enforcement as secondary – reserved for only those who ignore polite warnings in private.

While acknowledging the work of activists like Grindle, Do said he submitted his own version of an ethics ordinance Friday morning in order to make clear distinctions about his own views on the issue: such as a lifetime ban for anyone, like Grindle, who advocates for the panel ever serving on it.

Do said he wanted to arrive on Tuesday with clear positions acknowledged on the issue, rather than just being seen as one supervisor offering random amendments on the floor.

He said the negotiations with the campaign finance activists involved all supervisors.

“They met with all of us,” Do said, adding that because the Brown Act largely prevents elected officials from discussing issues before open session, he could not discuss details with his colleagues and thus chose to release his own version.

Yet Do – who faces reelection sooner than of any of his colleagues – immediately got out in front of those very same colleagues Friday, flooding media channels with a release touting his support for his own ordinance to set up a taxpayer-funded, countywide campaign finance watchdog.

Any media nibbles would make a nice campaign chit. Good mailer material.

And Do’s presser indeed got reporters calling.

Except Spitzer labeled Do’s ordinance as plagiarism, his press release, a “freshman mistake.”

“I think he plagiarized Shawn and my proposal, which we put together after months of hard work with the proponents,” Spitzer said, adding that Do should say he supports the deal worked out by him and Nelson.

There are two very different stories about who turned in ordinance drafts first.

Do said he walked over his proposal to Spitzer’s office around 9:30 a.m. because he had a meeting later that morning. He said he gave Spitzer a copy of his ordinance in the morning in front of Spitzer’s staff, which Do said he may call to testify on Tuesday.

“It’s dishonest to timestamp mine an hour and half after his,” Do said, stressing that he delivered his ordinance to Spitzer on Friday morning. “That’s factual. That’s not up to interpretation.”

Spitzer described Do’s effort as last-minute, barely qualifying under board of supervisors’ rules for placement as a supplemental item on the agenda.

“At 11:45, Andrew comes up and hands me his document,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer said he only authorized Do’s ordinance for discussion as a courtesy to him.

Then he saw Do’s press release.

“It looks like he’s trying to bootstrap and plagiarizes to take credit,” Spitzer said.

“He’s giving the impression’ I’m Wonder Dog and I’m here to save the day’.”

Yet after watching a week of emergency deliberations to save Karma the wolf dog led by Spitzer, Do said he’s stunned to hear Spitzer complain because a freshman supervisor beat him to the punch on a press release.

Yet the fact that board members are stepping out in front of themselves to be Wonder Dog on campaign finance regulation – a far cry from where they were just a year ago when they tried to cut grand jurors pay because the panel raised questions about an ethics commission – really says something about how Orange County citizens have begun to turn around their government and how elected officials react when citizens present just the threat of a viable punch delivered through the ballot box.