The Orange County Grand Jury, citing the county’s 40-year history of political corruption, Monday recommended creation of an independent ethics commission to advise elected officials of ethical pitfalls and increase public confidence in government, according to the Voice of OC.
“Trust in government is dependent upon officials that place the public interest ahead of their own,” according to the 32-page report titled “A Call for Ethical Standards: Corruption in Orange County.”
Here are a few excerpts from the Grand Jury Report:
Orange County has a long history of ethical violations by elected and appointed officials; as well as by employees that serve its multitude of county, city, school and special district agencies. Influence peddling played a major role in local government scandal as we transformed from an agrarian economy into the third largest populated county in California.
Trust in government is dependent upon officials that place the public interest ahead of their own. Every level of local government has faced allegations of conflict of interest, abuse of authority, patronage and lack of transparency. Equally damaging is the appearance of impropriety.
It is the Grand Jury‟s hope that Orange County will commit to a positive ethics environment and program that includes elements of training, advice and enforcement as a model for other local governments to follow. The primary goal of an effective ethics program is to increase public trust in government. The secondary goal is to prevent unethical conduct.
Orange County is again under scrutiny with the unfolding tale of sexual harassment, misfeasance, and incompetence involving county employees. A former city council member, employed as an executive at a large County department, is criminally charged with sexually assaulting seven women over an eight-year period.69,70 Political fallout from the unfolding case includes the forced resignation of the County‟s chief executive officer, the firing of a high ranking executive at the large County department and several early retirements and unplanned leaves of absence by key county personnel at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Grand Jury heard sworn testimony about a county employee that falsified documents to the State of California about a compressed natural gas project. The employee was investigated and terminated but returned to work upon a successful judicial appeal.
The Grand Jury received a complaint letter, read press articles, interviewed a high ranking county employee and heard sworn testimony about the practice of Executive Assistants to the Board of Supervisors being offered full-time county employment and circumventing normal competitive recruitment and hiring.71,72 It is a practice by some Orange County Supervisors that gives the public the appearance of cronyism and favoritism. In spite of protestations to the contrary, it is easy to imagine a Supervisor using his or her power to influence the selection of a valued aide or intern.