Orange County grand jury members released a report today recounting past corruption in the county and calling on supervisors to form a blue-ribbon commission to have ethical oversight.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer took the grand jury report as an opportunity to say he would call for the formation of a citizens' commission that would oversee enforcement of campaign contribution violations in county government. Spitzer said he would partner with government watchdog Shirley Grindle, who wrote the Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics -- or TINCUP -- ordinance approved by voters in 1991.
Spitzer's announcement, however, also offered a reprise of his public spat with Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, the one-time mentor who was grooming him to eventually step into the role of top prosecutor until the two had a messy public divorce and Spitzer was fired.
The grand jury's report also drew the ire of Supervisor John Moorlach, who complained it painted the county with too "broad a brush," and wasn't helpful in how county leaders could battle corruption.
The report offers a lengthy recounting of the county's corruption scandals and even compared the county with New York's Tammany Hall and Mayor Richard J. Daley's political machine from the 1950s through the 1970s.
"From 1974-77, an eye-popping 43 Orange County political figures were indicted, among them, two congressmen, three supervisors and the county assessor," the report reads. "Sadly, the conduct continues today at all levels of Orange County government."
The grand jury recommends that the supervisors create a blue ribbon commission to study ethics programs and then give advice to public officials and employees. The commission should also have oversight authority and be able to "enforce compliance through the use of warning letters, administrative settlements and the issuance of annual public reports," according to the grand jury.
Moorlach prefers putting a measure on the ballot that would change the county's charter to "incorporate some better practices" regarding ethical issues.
Moorlach criticized the grand jury report for being too vague on solutions.
"I'm just not so sure I can get my arms around what they want us to do," Moorlach said. "And I don't appreciate the broad brush."
Moorlach said the grand jury has been losing credibility with many of the county's political leaders.
"I think some of us have gotten to the point where we just don't see the grand jury as being feared or as being helpful or adding benefit or value, and some of us have been willing to even state that publicly," Moorlach said.
Spitzer was also critical of the report.
"They don't ask the fundamental question of why," Spitzer said.
"The Mike Carona's of the world thought they could get away with it because of their relationship with the District Attorney's Office," Spitzer said, referring to the disgraced former Orange County sheriff, who is doing time in a federal prison for witness tampering.
"The District Attorney and (Carona) had the same political advisor," Spitzer said, referring to Michael Schroeder, husband of Rackauckas' chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder.
"The problem is there has been this tone of tolerance," Spitzer said. "The report speaks for itself. This is the grand jury saying there's a tone of tolerance in the county... Everyone knows of the relationship between the District Attorney and Mike Carona and everyone knows it shouldn't have taken the federal government to prosecute Mike Carona."
Susan Kang Schroeder fired back that Spitzer is a hypocrite because he was endorsed by Carona in past political campaigns. Rackauckas' chief of staff also noted that Spitzer was fired from his job as prosecutor, in part, because of what were considered ethical lapses.
At one community meeting in which Spitzer was using the District Attorney's office materials he announced that he was running for District Attorney in 2014, Schroeder said.
The District Attorney's Office has been "vigorously" prosecuting political corruption cases, Schroeder said, adding that her boss recently won funding from the supervisors to expand a "public integrity unit" devoted to prosecuting official corruption.
"The special prosecutions unit is the largest it's ever been," Schroeder said.
"It's wrong for (Spitzer) to attack the professionalism of the men and women of the District Attorney's office," Schroeder said. "When they get a complaint, they vigorously pursue it and prosecute it... They look at the facts and it doesn't matter who it is."
When Rackauckas was made aware that then-county executive Carlos Bustamante was accused of sexually assaulting several women he managed the top prosecutor put together a case against him, Schroeder noted. The ex-Santa Ana City Councilman is awaiting trial.
"When we get a case the simple analysis is, 'Did that person commit a crime or not,' " Schroeder said. "We do a lot of political corruption cases."
- City News Service