This is my tribute UPDATE to Shirley Grindle, as she was the topic of the front-page story in the Sunday OC Register article below. I’m providing most of the mentions she’s had in my UPDATES over the years. Shirley has been engaged in my life since at least the year 2000, if not earlier. And, she has been able to convince plenty of reporters that she needed a little attention about establishing an Ethics Commission.
The piece reminds me of when Garrison Keillor had his annual farewell tours in the late 1980s. This has got to be Shirley’s Tenth Annual media announcement tour about her file cards and succession planning. You’ve just got to admire someone who just keeps swinging.
MOORLACH UPDATE — Political Stunts — October 11, 2014 October 11, 2014 John Moorlach, MOORLACH UPDATE — Ethics Take Two — Septembr 17, 2014
MOORLACH UPDATE — Orange County Business Journal — January 22, 2013
MOORLACH UPDATE — PA/PG — March 2, 2011 March 2, 2011 John Moorlach,
MOORLACH UPDATE — Daily Pilot — August 14, 2010 August 14, 2010 John Moorlach (see LOOK BACKS)
WATCHDOG GRINDLE GEARS UP FOR HER LAST CRUSADE
BY MARTIN WISCKOL
Grizzled government watchdog Shirley Grindle has long displayed a talent for getting under people’s skin.
The 80-year-old is gearing up for one final battle, a 2016 ballot measure establishing a commission that would keep officials looking over their shoulders long after she’s gone.
“My last hurrah is getting this ethics board,” said the longtime Orange resident. “This is the most important thing in my life right now.”
There are plenty who wish the county’s best-known government whistleblower would just go away.
“She’s a busybody who’s very vindictive,” said Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. “The community would be better off if Shirley Grindle focused her atten- tion on 53 cats.” Schroeder followed her telephone assessment with a series of emails, including one with the subject line “Shrill Grindle.” Another read “Separated at birth” – it had a photo of Grindle and one of the “Bewitched” TV character Gladys Kravitz, a nosy neighbor.
Schroeder did not mention that Kravitz had a basis for her suspicions of the Stephens household, given that the wife was a witch.
Grindle’s suspicions have been frequently validated as well.
The county’s 1978 campaign finance ordinance establishing contribution limits – dubbed TINCUP for “Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics” – was written by Grindle, who was outraged by developers pouring thousands of dollars into county supervisors’ accounts whenever they had a project that needed approval.
Grindle has since become a one-woman wrecking crew of enforcement, perusing campaign reports, filing complaints and winning judgments against candidates who stray from the law. She hopes voters will cement her legacy next year by approving a county commission to take over and expand the job she’s been doing.
One reason for the mission, she says, is Rackauckas’ reluctance to pursue political prosecutions. She says the district attorney plays favorites.
Schroeder levies the same accusation against Grindle.
The bitter grudge goes beyond the two women, revealing a Hatfields and McCoys-type political divide among some of the county’s most established officials.
For instance, Grindle’s most steadfast supporter on the Board of Supervisors is Todd Spitzer, a former deputy district attorney fired by Rackauckas for allegedly bullying underlings and otherwise abusing his authority. Spitzer is one of Rackauckas’ biggest critics – and Schroeder one of Spitzer’s.
Grindle also filed two campaign finance complaints against disgraced former Sheriff Mike Carona, who was long backed by prominent Republican donor Mike Schroeder. Schroeder, married to Susan Kang Schroeder until their recent divorce, has been Rackauckas’ campaign chairman since he was elected in 1998.
No charges were filed by Rackauckas against Carona, although the state fined the sheriff for violations stemming from Grindle’s second complaint. In 2009, the U.S. Justice Department prosecuted the sheriff for witness tampering and won a 66-month sentence.
“Had Tony Rackauckas looked into my complaints regarding the money laundering, it might have nipped these other problems in the bud,” Grindle said.
SOFTBALL VS. HARDBALL
Grindle’s gruff, combative persona falls away in her garage, where she’s surrounded by the toys and tools of her hobbies.
She fires up the Megatouch MAXX Emerald 2 touchscreen video game’s tennis program, effortlessly returns the volley and cackles with glee as her visitor repeatedly struggles to get a racket on the ball.
There’s also a stainedglass workshop in the garage and a batting practice apparatus. Her 70-and-over softball league is very competitive, she says, but the 75-and-over league is just “warm-up.”
The retired aerospace engineer describes the fondness she’s developed for her overwhelmingly male teammates.
“When I started playing softball, I met a much nicer group of people,” said Grindle , who manages both teams she plays on. “It’s much nicer than playing hardball with the politicians.”
She demonstrates her swing with a $300 carbon composite bat, smacking the practice-device ball squarely with a full and hearty stroke.
But it’s nothing compared with her impact in the political arena.
“Shirley Grindle is the nonelected person who’s made the greatest difference to Orange County politics,” said Fred Smoller, a Chapman University political science professor and part of the team Grindle assembled to help establish an ethics commission. “Without her, big-money interests would dominate politics even more.
“People think twice about their campaign contributions because of her. They worry about what she’s going to say about them. She’s increased transparency. She’s incredibly bright, incredibly tough and has incredible staying power. She’s a powerhouse, and the public should be indebted.”
Both Grindle and the county grand jury have repeatedly but unsuccessfully urged the Board of Supervisors to establish an ethics commission.
Grindle is still developing her proposal, but she promises something similar to those in place in most of the state’s other large metropolitan areas. It will include a full-time paid director to oversee campaign and gift disclosures, monitor the county lobbyist registry and provide training to candidates on TINCUP requirements. It also would receive and forward complaints about other ethics issues.
The biggest hurdle is getting it on the ballot.
Grindle complains that past supervisors resisted because they didn’t want the additional scrutiny. Some of those supervisors, in turn, complained that her proposal was a redundant, unnecessary expense.
Former Supervisor Chris Norby said candidates do a good job in making sure their opponents obey TINCUP, noting that violations typically generate negative headlines.
Norby and state Sen. John Moorlach, another former supervisor, say the district attorney and the state Fair Political Practices Commission have the job of responding to complaints – although the FPPC can only pursue violations of state law, not local laws like TINCUP.
Schroeder, Rackauckas’ chief of staff, added that if anybody has problems with how the district attorney does his job, they should file a complaint with the state attorney general.
Supervisors tried to quell calls for a county commission last year, when they put a measure on the ballot calling for the county to contract with the FPPC to enforce TINCUP as well as state laws.
It was overwhelmingly approved by voters but resulted in no change in enforcement. That’s because the FPPC is not empowered to enforce local campaign laws and a bill to give it that authority died in the Legislature.
“Why are they so opposed to a local ethics commission?” Grindle said. She noted that the current system usually requires someone to file a complaint for there to be enforcement and pointed to numerous violations that never would have come to light if she hadn’t flagged them.
Among them is a 2002 complaint that led to Norby being fined $10,000 by the state for not including occupations and addresses for some campaign donors – a penalty he says was disproportionate to the violation.
Contributing to supervisors’ resistance to a local commission is Grindle’s brusque and often unyielding personality.
Moorlach recounted forming an ad hoc committee in a failed search for common ground on an ethics commission. Grindle was regularly goaded by two adversaries on the panel and would get angry, Moorlach said, rather than simply letting the antagonism pass and focusing on ways to make progress.
“I think she’s always been well-meaning,” Moorlach said. “She has a very unique passion. What she does is beneficial. But the delivery of the message has always been so harsh, it never sounded like it made sense. When I tried to work with her, it was difficult.”
Grindle is hoping the current Board of Supervisors will break with its predecessors and put her ethics board proposal on the ballot. Besides Spitzer, she has been working with Supervisor Shawn Nelson to come up with a measure the board will find palatable.
If that’s unsuccessful, she and the small experienced team she’s assembled say they’re prepared to raise $200,000 to employ petition circulators and gather the 62,000 valid signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot themselves.
And if the ethics commission is established?
“I doubt I can walk away,” she said. “I’ll train the executive director. And I would probably continue to do it myself, on my cards.
“And I would play ball.”
CONTACT THE WRITER: mwisckol; @MartinWisckol
This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District.
If you no longer wish to subscribe, just let me know by responding with the request to do so.