MOORLACH UPDATE — Ethics Take Two — Septembr 17, 2014

A Certified Public Accountant has to take four hours of ethics education courses every two years. A Certified Financial Planner has to take two hours of CFP Board-approved ethics continuing education every two years. Under Assembly Bill 1234, an elected official has to take two hours of ethics training every two years. Believe me, I’m not unfamiliar with the topic of ethical behavior and professional training. Now, in a country where there are three branches of government, the Orange County Grand Jury wants to establish a fourth branch. I don’t agree. One, the County doesn’t have the money to hire and staff another $750,000 department. Two, such a department would still be dependent on the Board of Supervisors to fund its budget. And three, there are enough oversight efforts currently in place. Here is a sampling of what was provided in the Board’s response to the Grand Jury (for which I also requested that the County’s Fraud Hotline be included):

By suggesting that the monitoring and enforcement of ethic, campaign, and lobbyist reporting is “deficient,” the Grand Jury suggests that the County is somehow not meeting a legal or other minimum standard. The County of Orange exceeds legal requirements for the areas mentioned above. For example, the Board has established a number of oversight bodies and functions, including the Internal Audit Department, the Performance Audit Department, the Office of Independent Review, the Audit Oversight Committee, the Treasurer’s Oversight Committee, and the Compliance Oversight Committee. In addition, the County already has limits on campaign contributions in County elections through the Orange County Campaign Reform Ordinance (Codified Ordinances of Orange County, Section 1-6-1 et seq.) The Board has adopted the Orange County Gift Ban Ordinance (Codified Ordinances of Orange County, Section 1-3-21 et seq.) that prohibits County elected officials and high-level employees from receiving gifts from persons doing business, or seeking to do business, with the County. Additionally, the Board has adopted an ordinance requiring the disclosure of lobbyists and lobbying activities through the Lobbyist Registration Ordinance (Codified Ordinances of Orange County, Section 1-1-8 et seq.) These oversight agencies and local laws, all of which operate to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption, are in addition to the required responsibilities of the District Attorney and County Auditor-Controller.

The OC Register covers the story with its piece written for the Voice of OC. The headlines are provided for the OC Register’s website and newspaper versions first, then the Voice of OC’s headline second. Once again, I offered up a Charter Commission that would create an all-inclusive Charter that would address the concerns raised by the Grand Jury (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Ethics Advice — April 16, 2013). In reflecting on the Board’s vote, when I have a disagreement with any portion of an agenda item, I request that it be separated out and voted on separately.

The second piece below is from the Fountain Valley Patch and recaps the recent proposed I-405 toll lanes hearing held last week in the city of Costa Mesa. With gas taxes leveling off or declining, thanks to more fuel efficient vehicles, Sacramento is providing counter-intuitive incentives. It is giving Teslas and Chevrolet Volts bumper stickers to ride the carpool lanes with a single passenger. This benefits a select few on the backs of the many (who are actually contributing to the transportation improvements through their gas taxes). With a conversion of the carpool lanes to toll lanes, Sacramento is considering another counter-intuitive incentive, one that once again benefits a select few on the backs of the many.

Board of Supervisors rejects ethics oversight proposal again

Panel says grand jury referred to old corruption examples.

BOARD REJECTS ETHICS PROPOSAL

Supervisors say oversight panel recommended by grand jury would be ‘duplicative.’

Supervisors Turn Down Independent Ethics Oversight

By NICK GERDA Voice of OC

The County Board of Supervisors Tuesday rejected, for the second time since last year, a grand jury proposal for stronger ethics oversight of county government.

The vote apparently was 5-0, but Supervisor Janet Nguyen objected to certain sections of the supervisors’ response to the grand jury, causing confusion over how her vote should be recorded. Exactly how the overall vote will be officially recorded won’t be known until Wednesday.

In their June report, the grand jury called on the Board of Supervisors to help create a strong, independent county ethics “program” to police the conduct of county officials and lobbyists.

“Ethics bodies work effectively to deter, detect, and punish ethics violations,” said the detailed report. “Vigorous ethics monitoring and enforcement is necessary to develop and maintain trust in government.”

Supervisors disagreed.

“I would agree that creating something new – just another level – is duplicative” and not probably getting to the heart of issues, said Supervisor Pat Bates at Tuesday’s county supervisors meeting.

“I would be very, very concerned with anybody that’s appointed to have subpoena powers that are currently restricted to our law enforcement officials.”

The issue is pitting supervisors against grand jurors and the county’s rank-and-file employees.

Jennifer Muir of the Orange County Employees Association told supervisors on Tuesday that county workers support the grand jury’s proposal.

“Your county workforce stands with the grand jury” in their call for an ethics commission, said Muir, the union’s assistant general manager.

Muir noted that last year’s grand jury described Orange County as a “hotbed of corruption.” The most recent grand jury reiterated calls from the prior year’s panel for an ethics commission.

Supervisors, meanwhile, have disputed the grand jury report, saying it mostly refers to old examples and that proper oversight is already in place.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer called for a wide-ranging dialogue on ethics next year, when he will likely be the supervisors’ chairman.

“I really do think we need to have a comprehensive discussion, both of the campaign contribution issues and the ethics issues,” he said.

Supervisor John Moorlach suggested ethics reform be looked at as part of a review of the county’s charter next year.

“It would be real nice to pursue a charter commission and just do a thorough charter for the county that would address a lot of the concerns and tie everything together so we address ethics and campaign reform reporting in that document,” said Moorlach, who volunteered to serve on the commission. He leaves the Board of Supervisors at the end of this year because of term limits.

Chairman Shawn Nelson said there were practical problems with an ethics commission, like who would be appointed to preside over it.

If someone doesn’t like the way the government is run, he added, “you don’t just invent the fourth branch of government…I don’t know who is sort of the ultimate moral authority to appoint that branch.”

In her comments Tuesday, Muir reiterated calls from union officials for an across-the-board transparency measure, known as CRONEY.

The ordinance would shine a light on how large private contracts are negotiated, she said, and give the public more time to evaluate the costs of contracts.

If supervisors don’t adopt the ethics commission, “at the very least adopt CRONEY,” Muir urged.

“I think the taxpayers believe that when you approve $133 million for a contract, the contract is going to cost $133 million, not $133 million plus a change order” or extra charges for electricity or overtime, she said.

Muir asked the supervisors to schedule a future discussion of the proposed CRONEY law. Board members didn’t show interest in doing so.

As a reason for not pursuing a commission, Supervisor Janet Nguyen pointed to the state’s decision to take away $73 million per year in funding from the county.

“We do not have the funds” for a commission because of that, said Nguyen.

The grand jury, meanwhile, estimated the yearly cost of an ethics commission at about $500,000, or less than 0.01 percent of the county’s total annual budget.

Their report said the percentage is roughly the same as the city of Los Angeles, which is far larger than Orange County, spends on its ethics commission.

Nguyen also pointed out that one of the supervisors’ major rebuttals to the grand jury was largely a moot point.

As an example of stepping up oversight in the wake of the grand jury report, the board’s response pointed to the supervisors’ efforts to hire the state political watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission or FPPC, to enforce local campaign finance limits.

But, as Nguyen pointed out, the state Legislature recently killed the bill that would have allowed the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to take over enforcement.

Spitzer, meanwhile, said there was a school of thought, advocated by political watchdog Shirley Grindle, that supervisors were looking at the FPPC approach as a “shiny object” that doesn’t address the numerous other ethics concerns from the grand jury.

Spitzer also said he had it on good authority that the employees association lobbied Sacramento to not pass the FPPC bill.

As for their response to the grand jury, the supervisors’ ultimate vote was confusing, even to top county officials.

The proposed response was approved on a general voice vote, with one small addition, by a majority of the five supervisors.

When Nelson asked if any of his colleagues was opposed to a motion to approve the comments, with the minor addition, Nguyen responded: “just my comments, of all the items individually.”

Clerk of the Board Susan Novak tried to figure out which way Nguyen was voting.

“She doesn’t want be seen as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” Novak said.

"Well she can vote on the motion, but her comments stand on their own. I mean, they will be part of the record. Actually they are at this point," said Nelson.

Nguyen then reiterated her opposition to certain parts of the response.

“The ones that I did not make comments to, yes I agree with staff’s recommendation. But the ones I did make comments – those, especially the ones I said ‘no’ – I’m not supportive of staff’s recommendation. So I’m not overall supportive [of] the item. It’s individually," Nguyen told Novak.

“There’s [a] couple that wasn’t a ‘no’, it was a comment – ‘yes’ with a comment. So please take a look at that again," Nguyen added.

“Alright. With that, are there any opposed?” asked Nelson. None of his colleagues voiced opposition.

“Alright. Noted, with the exceptions of Supervisor Nguyen. Passes, sort of, 5-0,” said Nelson, who then moved on to the next issue on the agenda.

Novak, who is in charge of keeping accurate meeting records, said later that the slightly modified response was ultimately approved, and that she would be reviewing video of the meeting to clarify the exact motion.

“This is a little bit unique. We have had bifurcated votes before but not quite like this,” Novak said.

The official vote tally would be posted online Wednesday, she added.

“I will do it accurately to what’s on the tape” and ensure it shows Nguyen’s opposition to certain portions of the response, Novak said.

Moorlach, meanwhile, suggested that if Nguyen wanted to be shown as taking a vote against certain aspects of the response she should have asked for separate votes on the sections she opposed.

Moorlach said he got the sense “that if she were concerned, she would have said ‘let’s bifurcate, pull these out” and vote on some and not others, Moorlach told Voice of OC after the meeting.

Efforts to reach Nguyen late Tuesday afternoon were unsuccessful.

The minor change agreed to by all supervisors was to add the county’s fraud hotline as an example of existing oversight.

It’s unclear what the grand jury and other supporters of stronger ethics oversight will do now. Grand jurors do not have the power to create an ethics commission on their own.

In the 1970s, county voters used the initiative process to adopt the local campaign finance limits law, known as TINCUP.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

Residents Not Happy About Toll Lanes for 405

A group formed to oppose the toll lanes attracted like-minded thinkers at a forum last week.

By Penny Arévalo

Local residents; business community leaders; and federal, state, county, and city elected officials strongly voiced their opposition at a Town Hall Forum in Costa Mesa last Thursday evening regarding Caltrans’ latest proposal to add toll lanes on the I-405 Freeway.

The forum, which had a well-attended crowd of over 100 people, was sponsored by the 405 Freeway Cities Coalition, a group of six cities along the 405 freeway corridor (Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach, Westminster) and the unincorporated area of Rossmoor.

The cities have banded together to oppose Caltrans’ effort to add toll lanes along the stretch of the freeway between the SR-55 Freeway in Costa Mesa and the I-605 Freeway at the Los Angeles County border, and wanted to gather public input on the subject to pass along to OCTA, who will be discussing Caltrans’ proposal at their upcoming September 22 board meeting.

A large number of elected officials, including Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, State Assembly Members Allan Mansoor and Donald Wagner, former State Assemblyman Jose Solorio, Irvine Councilwoman Beth Krom, and a representative from U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal’s office joined with members of public in testifying in strong opposition to the toll lanes, saying they will negatively impact the corridor cities, their local business communities, and their residents.

After more than a decade of study, public outreach, and environmental review on ways to improve the I-405 freeway, OCTA and Caltrans are nearing the completion of a final environmental document that should be finished early next year regarding their intentions to expand the stretch of the freeway between the SR-55 Freeway at Costa Mesa and the I-605 Freeway at the Los Angeles County border.

Present plans call for the construction of one new lane in each direction to improve through put, with the project to get underway in 2016 and be completed by 2020.

The OCTA Board of Directors is scheduled to consider Caltrans’ latest toll lanes proposal at their 9 a.m.. board meeting on Monday, Sept. 22 at their headquarters at 600 South Main St. in Orange. The Coalition urged interested members of the public to call OCTA at (714) 560-6282 to express their feelings regarding the issue.

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