Orange County Seal

Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 6:00 am

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.

“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. “(W)e believe that there exists a direct correlation between ethical conduct and good governance.”

The panel recommended the Board of Supervisors create an a blue ribbon commission to study government ethics programs within California and around the nation and, within a year, propose an Orange County ethics reform program that includes oversight.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he and Shirley Grindle, author of Orange County’s campaign contribution ordinance, are writing their own ethics commission proposal that they’ll present to the Board of Supervisors next month.

“Their [grand jury] conclusion is right,” said Spitzer. “We need an ethics commission.”

But Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson took immediate issue with the grand jury, saying the ethics of any oversight body or blue ribbon commission would be no better that than the ethics of the elected officials who appointed them.

It’s up to the news media and the voters to hold government officials accountable, he said in a telephone interview.

“A truly informed public that votes is the ethics commission,” said Nelson.

But the grand jury said ethics commissioners shouldn’t be appointed by members of any group or agency they would oversee.

“It cannot be emphasized enough that freedom to act without political interference is paramount to the success of any ethics program,” according to the grand jury report.

Supervisor John Moorlach said he’s considering the grand jury’s report and wants to understand all of the issues.

“I still have to react to it,” he said. But, he said, he plans to propose a separate commission to write a county charter and that may be a way to also handle the ethics issues.

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