LOS ANGELES -- An Orange County, Calif. grand jury published a scathing 35-page report on the county government, documenting what it sees as a pattern of corruption in the county and recommending county supervisors establish a blue ribbon ethics commission.
Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach said that county supervisors have formed an ad hoc committee to consider the issue.
While Moorlach said he had previously considered a charter amendment, he added that the report is more inflammatory than it needed to be and called the grand jury report irresponsible.
California civil grand juries are unique; a group of volunteer citizens sits for a year, charged with investigating local governments to recommend improvements.
The report compares Orange County to New York’s famously corrupt Tammany Hall era, citing a 40-year history of political corruption in the county.
The grand jury claims that Orange County has experienced one political scandal after another in every decade since the 1970s.
Those scandals have led to the prosecutions of members of the Board of Supervisors, the sheriff, a member of Congress, some of the state’s biggest political donors and dozens of others, according to the report.
The county’s 1994 bankruptcy also was noted.
“Sadly, it is the Grand Jury’s hypothesis that untoward behavior continues and is actively festering in today’s political environment,” jurors said in the report. “In point of fact, this and several other studies conducted by the 2012-2013 Grand Jury address the fact that corruption has permeated all levels of the organization, and does not apply only to elected officials positioned visibly in the public eye.”
If you want to look at activities of malfeasance, any neighboring county would probably have had the same number of anecdotes and episodes, Moorlach said.
“It kind of takes a jaundiced eye saying you had this and therefore everyone is corrupt,” he said.
It is kind of awkward that the grand jury works side-by-side with the district attorney, which conducts investigations on allegations of corruption, and they made such an exaggerated statement, Moorlach said.
“They are 19 individuals who can do whatever they want,” Moorlach said. “I think they could have been more sage-like in presenting the message.”
The panel recommended that the county’s Board of Supervisors study government ethics programs around the country and propose an ethics reform program with oversight powers within a year.
It emphasized the importance of training county elected officials, employees and lobbyists about what is and isn’t ethical.
County Supervisor Shawn Nelson is putting together an ad hoc committee that will craft a response to the report, Moorlach said.
“I don’t know if we will do a blue ribbon commission,” Moorlach said. “I’ve wanted to do a charter commission for some time, but we have been overloaded with so many other activities.”
The Grand jury report requires that the supervisors report back in 90 days.
“We have just started to do the preliminary research,” Moorlach said.