It’s that time of year again for Orange County’s board of supervisors.
Time to punch the human relations commission.
They’re the kind of jabs that often come during election years, especially when conservative Republicans seeking office need a bone to throw the base.
After throwing most of the extra discretionary public dollars at law enforcement during this year’s budget deliberations, supervisors then focused like lasers on trimming $48,000 in county funds being spent on a human relations commission, which focuses on combating hate crimes and fostering a neighborhood environment that supports diversity.
The question that supervisors have decided to pursue is whether they should have more direct control over the messages and approach of that group.
Years ago, county supervisors themselves endorsed the idea of having the human relations commission set up a foundation to help fund its work and offer them distance.
So the timing of this new approach is odd given this comes just as the commission speaks up on LGBTQ issues.
Another county-related group, the Protocol Foundation, allows foreign dignitaries – often times top Chinese officials according to the scant public records available – to tour our county Hall of Administration – and county supervisors could care less.
They don’t ask any questions about Chinese officials being toured through and briefed on our government computer systems, as has been the case in Orange County.
I’ve asked about it for years, with little luck in getting solid details about what foreign officials are being toured around town with the County of Orange logo.
Yet Supervisor Andrew Do – who is up for re-election this November - is especially concerned about where county supervisors stand on issues that the human relations commission dives into.
What drew the ire of Supervisor Do?
A June 13 press release from the commission expressing support for victims of the Orlando mass shooting and opposing violence, hate, and discrimination against LGBTQ people.
"We are also here again, to say that we cannot, we will not, accept that hate is stronger than love," the commission wrote in its release.
Do's issue was that the press release went out with county logo on it, sending what appears to be confusing messages to the public about where county supervisors stand on dicey social issues.
Super ironic that Do is under review from the state Fair Political Practices Commission for sending out mailers from his office that some say look like campaign mail.
Supervisor Michelle Steel – who is not up for election this year - also has joined Do’s efforts, saying that Orange County’s decades-old approach to funding its human relations responsibilities needs tweaking.
Steel also wants separation between the non-profit Human Relations Council and the county Human Relations Commission.
“We need to make a clear distinction,” Steel said.
Now keep in mind that both Do and Steel are immigrants from countries with a keen experience with Chinese communists.
Yet having a bunch of unknown communist officials being toured around public buildings they supervise apparently doesn’t bother them in the least.
I still remember the joke of watching state Sen. Janet Nguyen running around the streets as a county supervisor and offering Vietnamese protesters water when the president of Vietnam visited Orange County back in 2007.
Yet she could have changed that visit just by understanding how this foundation coordinated it.
That’s when I first learned about how the Protocol Foundation works.
This was the panel that helped our State Department organize a visit for the Vietnamese president and set up sheriff protection for someone that most First District residents wouldn’t spend a penny to protect.
Now, I don’t mind engagement. But I’d like to know exactly whom I’m engaging with.
No matter how many times I've asked supervisors and county staff about the work of this group, it never gets any kind of review – not even during the annual budget deliberations.
But somebody puts out a press release on LGBTQ issues and it prompts immediate action.
Now, Do and Steel’s colleague Todd Spitzer – who just won re-election in the primary, gaining the majority that Do didn’t achieve – is warning both that they may not want their fingerprints so closely pegged on this human relations thing.
That brings real accountability, something supervisors rarely want.
Spitzer’s point, and he’s right, is that structuring the county’s human relations staff responsibilities through a private foundation that supports the county commission with little public funds also allows politicians like Spitzer distance.
It allows the commission to work with communities Spitzer might not otherwise get near because it allows him to get close without getting burned.
The protocol foundation does the same thing.
It allows folks like Do and Steel, and Janet Nguyen before them, to go into their communities and tout hard-line anti-communist records.
But when these Chinese communist officials are literally being toured around the building, none of these so-called anti-commies know anything.
That’s because it’s the Protocol Foundation that’s doing it all.
And they hardly keep any records.
But nobody is asking any questions about that.
Instead, they’re focused on banging away at poor Rusty Kennedy and his human relations work.
Talk about the wrong target for these fiscal chicken hawks.
Norberto Santana Jr. is the publisher of Voice of OC and writes a weekly column on county issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.