Supervisors Wrangle Over Cost of Ethics Commission Proposal

After finally agreeing to put an ethics commission on the ballot in June, county supervisors are now wrangling over how much the commission will cost and how to present that to voters.

The latest drama started in November when Supervisor Michelle Steel requested her colleagues’ approval to have county Auditor-Controller Eric Woolery prepare a financial analysis of the measure, which would appear on the ballot.

Steel, who was the only supervisor to vote against putting the commission proposal on the ballot, is saying it will cost taxpayers between $500,000 to $1 million based on a county staff analysis of other ethics commissions across the state.

“I think this is a good number to start [with], because the voters have the right to know the cost,” Steel said of the range.

But Supervisor Todd Spitzer said her numbers are overinflated.

The document Steel presented showing $272,000 per year for an executive director “is inherently misleading because it doesn’t break out that that’s not just a salary,” Spitzer said. “If I open my ballot and I saw that the county was considering paying that position 272 [thousand dollars], I’d cough up my coffee.”

Additionally, Steel’s higher numbers seemed to be based on a commission with a staff of around five people, while Orange County’s commission – given the conservative nature of the supervisors when it comes to staffing – would likely have fewer, Spitzer suggested.

Spitzer, however, did agree that it’s important for voters to know the expected cost.

He suggested supervisors plan a future discussion on what exactly the compensation would be for commission staff if the measure were passed, and whether the jobs would be full-time, part-time, or contracted out.

“We’d have a much better idea” of what it would look like, he noted.

Supervisor Andrew Do agreed with Spitzer.

“If somebody doesn’t like this ordinance, they can completely sabotage it be just making outlandish” cost estimates, Do said.

If supervisors do formally ask Woolery to prepare the analysis, it would then go directly on the ballot without any further supervisors’ approval. If they disagree, they could seek to appeal it during a 10-day review period in which members of the public can challenge it in court.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.