The business of government – contracts for everything from toilet paper to car washes – in Orange County is worth about $3 billion each year.

And year after year, stretching back nearly a decade, the county government purchasing process for those funds appears to have been mismanaged.

This, in America’s arguably most Republican county, a place where all county supervisors belong to the GOP and the mantra of running government like a business is popular.

Yet running a business is hard work, choc full of details.

The procurement disaster is thanks in large part to decentralization from the 1994 county bankruptcy and Orange County supervisors’ penchant for senior level political appointees who lack experience in their assigned departments.

That was the core conclusion of a scathing grand jury report last year, which took direct aim at Deputy CEO Rob Richardson (a Republican, former Santa Ana Unified School District Trustee) without naming him and argued taxpayers needed to hire a professional Purchasing Agent.

Instead, we got more politicians.

Yet listening to them on the dais, it appeared all figured out.

County Supervisors’ Chairwoman Michelle Steel and Supervisor Lisa Bartlett spent more than a year working with Richardson to develop a new contract procurement manual that was supposed to streamline purchasing.

Their plan was approved in March and goes into effect in July.

But guess what?

It already needs fixing because it violates California law.

Richardson and his colleagues apparently picked a number out of thin air, deciding that executive contract signing authority – without requiring board of supervisors’ approval – should be doubled from $100,000 to $200,000.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer, to his credit, did ask his colleagues publicly about the rationale for expanding executive signing power back in March and was told by Steel that the subcommittee had checked it out and that the amount was standard for other counties.

“I have real issues with doubling it because other counties are doing it,” Spitzer said.

Yet that’s exactly what he and his colleagues did that day.

And apparently that’s not what other counties do.

California state law caps that kind of signing authority at $100,000.

This is something a real purchasing agent would, or should, know.

Indeed, insiders know this and caught it before implementation.

The fix was quietly slipped into the county supervisors’ public agenda for this week.

It’s nicely tucked away on page 261 out of the 474-page document that is the gigantic supplemental agenda on a PDF issued by the county last Friday, which allows these kinds of fixes to be handled out of reporters’ view – even though it meets the minimum for legal disclosure of public business.

I don’t think government executives are necessarily hiding anything sinister here but the glitch speaks to the fact that many times our elected and appointed officials just aren’t focused on the details of reviewing what is right in front of them or the promises they make.

That is increasingly our job.

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