First OC Ethics Commissioner Up for Appointment Tuesday

Tracy Wood/Voice of OC

Peter Agarwal (center) at a CalOptima event in 2015.

More than a year after voters approved the creation of an Orange County Campaign Finance and Ethics Commission, county supervisors are scheduled to vote Tuesday on appointing one of their longtime appointees as its first member.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson nominated Peter Agarwal, a Fullerton bank branch manager and Anaheim Chamber of Commerce board member whom county supervisors have previously appointed to positions like board member on the CalOptima county health plan for poor and disabled residents.

If appointed to the ethics commission, Agarwal will be tasked with enforcing the county’s campaign finance limits, lobbying law, gift ban, and code of ethics. Each of the five supervisors will nominate one member of the ethics commission.

Information about Agarwal, who has been a Nelson appointee to other county boards and commissions, was buried on page 552 of the supervisors’ 813-page supplemental agenda packet, after hundreds of pages of contract and budget documents.

There’s no page number guide at the front of the document, nor are the Agarwal documents searchable, which requires members of the public to scroll through hundreds of pages of the agenda manually to find the documents.

In his ethics commission application, Agarwal says he has not been “affiliated with any business or nonprofit agency(ies)” in the last five years. But elsewhere in the document he says he works as an branch executive with Citizen’s Business Bank and is a current board member of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

Agarwal also wrote in his application that he currently serves on the CalOptima board of directors, a position he hasn’t held for nearly a year because supervisors rejected his application to stay on that board.

Additionally, he lists himself as a current “Full Board Member” of the National Association of Corporate Directors, while that organization’s website doesn’t list him on its board member page and a web search found no public association between Agarwal and the group.

Agarwal works as the manager of the Citizens Business Bank branch in Fullerton, where he holds the title of vice president.

He has been active in the Anaheim business community, and was named “Anaheim Business Champion of the Year” by the chamber of commerce in 2012.

Agarwal has been appointed to various commissions and boards by Nelson, his predecessor Supervisor Chris Norby, and former Anaheim Councilman Harry Sidhu.

Norby appointed Agarwal to the Orange County Public Facilities Corporation in 2004 and the county Waste Management Commission in 2009.

In Anaheim, Sidhu successfully nominated Agarwal to the city’s Public Utilities Board in July 2006. One year into his four-year term, Agarwal left the utilities board to join the city Planning Commission after Sidhu nominated him for that position.

Agarwal went on to serve for several years on the Planning Commission, including as its chairman. Sidhu also appointed him to Anaheim’s advisory committee on district elections in October 2012.

That same month, after Nelson succeeded Norby, county supervisors appointed Agarwal to the CalOptima board of directors, where he served during a tumultuous period in which a county grand jury and federal auditors determined lives were being put at risk by mismanagement.

Agarwal applied to remain on the board last year, but supervisors didn’t reappoint him.

Nelson appointed him to the county’s Audit Oversight Committee on March 14, a position he resigned from at some point since, according to a letter attached to his application. The letter doesn’t explain why he resigned.

Agarwal has given at least $5,300 in campaign contributions, including at least $250 each to Norby, Sidhu, and Anaheim Councilwoman Kris Murray, according to an initial search of databases.

A District Attorney investigation found Sidhu violated campaign finance law in 2010 when he accepted two maxed-out contributions from a hotel developer who gave under separate business entities.

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