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It’s becoming more and more clear why Orange County’s current Board of Supervisors are so terrified of public comment — their own partisans are screaming for their recall. 

Throughout the entire pandemic, the Republican-majority board has really gone out of their way to avoid public comment or transparency in public contracting.

Norberto Santana, Jr.

A pioneering leader in the nation’s rising nonprofit news movement and an award-winning journalist. Santana has established Voice of OC as Orange County’s civic news leader, uncovered truths across Southern California governments for more than two decades and reported on Congress and Latin America. Subscribe now to receive his latest columns by email.

These folks hate a good debate. 

Much less being questioned.

It’s been six months since the County of Orange held any kind of Covid-related press conference, outside of officials opening vaccine supersites. 

And public updates from OC Health Officer Clayton Chau during county supervisors’ meetings have gotten thinner and thinner. 

That approach continues to fuel suspicion and conspiracy theories.

This week, hundreds of worried local residents came out in force to the county supervisors’ weekly public meeting, calling out supervisors over a badly-worded, digital vaccine receipt for those who have used the county vaccine app, Othena.

For many protestors worried about Covid restrictions and vaccines, such a receipt is the start of a vaccine passport system.

[Read: OC Supervisors Cancel Digital Coronavirus Vaccine Records, Hundreds of People Rail Against Vaccine Passports]

Yet instead of hosting a broad-based discussion for concerned residents, Supervisors’ Chairman Andrew Do limited the public comment of nearly 500 residents to 30 seconds each.

Protestors gathered outside the Hall of Administration before the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting to protest coronavirus vaccines and the pandemic response. May 11, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Watching the emotional commenters at the podium, Do kept interrupting each one, abruptly telling them, “your time is up” and in many cases shutting off their microphones.

You could feel these people getting angrier and angrier as they were cut off.

Hear them becoming louder and louder when Do told them to move on.

Protestors gathered outside the Hall of Administration before the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting to protest coronavirus vaccines and the pandemic response. May 11, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Alongside Gov. Gavin Newsom, the word recall was increasingly being connected to the GOP-led county Board of Supervisors by several commenters.

Yet the big question facing Newsom and local policymakers like county supervisors is how many of these kinds of Orange County residents are there? 

How deep does the river of Covid discontent run? Will it engulf Newsom? Or them?

Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

A new poll from Chapman University, the fifth poll in a row of OC attitudes and scheduled for a live Zoom public discussion today at noon, seems to indicate that there’s a silent majority not showing up to the board of supervisors’ meetings. 

Chapman University’s Vice President for Research, Thomas Piechota will host the school’s,  Ask the Experts Virtual Town Hall: Orange County Survey – Public Perceptions of the Pandemic.

According to the Chapman poll, conducted by Chapman political scientist Fred Smoller and Mike Moodian, a Chapman lecturer in Leadership Studies, a majority see local government getting Covid-19 just about right.

And unlike the live, unmasked crowd at county supervisors meetings, these residents have more faith in Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Orange County Health Care Agency.

But, according to the Chapman data, this crowd also doesn’t like politicians. 

According to the poll of 703 people, taken in February, some of the highest negatives were logged for Newsom and county supervisors. 

Click here to read the poll.

Poll results show both Orange County Republican and Democrat residents overwhelmingly approved of social distancing rules.

Yet on mask mandates, a clear partisan difference emerged with Republicans against mask mandates along a 60-40 split.

Meanwhile, Democrats and no party preference voters both overwhelmingly supported mask mandates.

Another big partisan difference was around reopening schools.

Republicans were overwhelmingly for reopening schools with precautions.

Democrats were overwhelmingly in favor of keeping schools closed until the threat of the virus has passed.

In this instance, no party preference voters were split evenly, with a slight majority favoring reopening schools with precautions. 

Newly-elected Democratic County Supervisor Katrina Foley — who today will join HCA Director and Public Health Officer Clayton Chau on the live Chapman Zoom discussion — continues to challenge her colleagues to open up the public comment period of the meetings to ensure that policy makers get more broad feedback.

For months, supervisors have restricted dial-in commentary or emailed-in commentary that can be read aloud.

They also continue to fine tune public sector contracts — for things like vaccine PR and Othena — behind closed doors. 

It looks like Foley, who on Tuesday also presented tough public questions about Covid spending, will continue pushing to open up public comment. 

She also said she could soon force a policy debate on that issue.

During Tuesday’s supervisors meeting, Foley said the people speaking during public comment weren’t representative of Orange County. 

“We are appeasing a small faction of our community, a very small faction of our community.”

All this makes me think.

If public commenting is expanded at the County of Orange, and the silent majority meets the vocal minority, I wonder if the word recall starts having a very different partisan taste in Orange County by the fall. 

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