Senator Joe Dunn (Ret.) dropped off a proposal yesterday requesting that it be put on next week’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting agenda. It made me wonder. Don’t we usually vet ideas a few weeks before putting them on Board agendas? Now it would have to be put on as a supplemental item, thus providing us even less time to thoroughly review the matter. The OC Register’s take on the matter is found below.
Senator Dunn does raise a good point regarding at least the appearance of influence with regard to lobbyists, many of whom are also active in raising money for Supervisorial and other County-wide candidates. While I do not believe there is significant evidence of improper influencing of the Board while I have served here the last three years, let me discuss some history as a segue into what our office policy has been with respect to lobbyists and County contracts.
The procedure for presenting contract proposals to the Board rather straightforward. The appropriate County staff issue either a Request for Proposals (RFP) or Request for Statement of Qualifications (RFQ), whichever is appropriate. When the bids (responses) or Statements of Qualifications (SOQ’s) come in, a panel of staff experienced in doing so and knowledgeable in the specific contracting area, evaluates the written proposals and conducts oral interviews of the highest ranking proposals, eventually scoring each proposal. The staff then recommends the most responsive, responsible bidder to the Board, and includes the evaluation scoring sheets for us to examine.
This is a change from a number of years ago, when staff would only recommend the top three or so without scoring, which allowed lobbyists to engage in a free for all at the Board level to persuade Board members that their client was the best of the three. This favored the bidder who hired the most “persuasive” lobbyist. Permitting the staff to now make one recommendation (with perhaps a secondary recommendation if the primary recommended party is unable to perform or successfully enter into a contract), along with the score sheets, reduces this activity somewhat, but not entirely. There have still been instances where a staff recommendation was overturned by a majority of the Board.
For this reason, from almost our first day here, we adopted several policies to deal with lobbyists and potential County contracts. They include the following provisions.
1. From the moment an RFP or RFQ is issued, until the date that the staff recommendation is made public by its publication on the Board agenda (six days before the Board meeting), neither staff nor I will meet with either the bidder/proposer, or any of their lobbyists or other representatives. We believe that if we were to do so, it would cast a pall on the perceived, if not actual, fairness of the staff evaluation process. We believe in permitting staff to do its job without any perceived or actual influence from Board members.
2. Once the staff recommendation is made public by its publication on the Board agenda, a member of my staff may meet with the bidder/proposer or their representative, but only if there appears to be a challenge to the recommendation. We do not believe in requiring lobbyists or their clients to spend their time with us on uncontested matters. I have been careful to shield myself, but there are occasions where I will meet directly with the bidder/proposer or their representative.
3. We will not vote to overturn a staff recommendation unless either: (a) there is clear and convincing evidence of bias or corruption in the evaluation panel process (which we have not encountered to this point); (b) the published process is significantly deviated from; or (c) there is clear and convincing evidence of material facts (facts that would, if known by the panel, have altered their recommendation) that could not have been presented to the panel in a timely fashion. This evidentiary standard guarantees that staff recommendations, which are made by the people most familiar with the contracting needs and technical requirements, are not overturned (at least with our vote) for reasons unrelated to substance.
We believe that our methodology avoids many, if not all, of the perceived evils that Senator Dunn’s proposal seeks to address. Nevertheless, be assured that we will give his proposal a fair—but not rushed—review, keeping in mind that an extra layer of bureaucracy, to be justified, must be necessary to solve a real problem, and must be designed to adequately solve that problem without creating new ones.
Lobbying reforms proposed in O.C.
By JENNIFER MUIR
A former state senator is asking Orange County supervisors to regulate local lobbyists –and themselves – by adopting sweeping reform measures aimed at adding transparency to the political process here.
Former Sen. Joe Dunn has drafted a proposal that would require Orange County elected officials to disclose their interactions with paid advocates, and he’s asking supervisors to consider adopting the rules at their board meeting next week. If they won’t, he’ll work toward creating a ballot initiative in time for this fall’s election, he said.
"It’s been disconcerting that we are one of the few remaining counties that allows our county government to operate in secrecy," Dunn said. "I’m not going to suggest there’s been anything unsavory happening in the county. For me, this is about trying to wrestle with the utter lack of faith that the average citizen has in government."
Orange County’s neighbors in Los Angeles and San Diego, along with others across the state and the California Secretary of State, require lobbyists to register and follow other regulations.
Dunn says his proposal for Orange County is similar to those already in practice elsewhere, requiring lobbyists to register annually and describe their business interests, clients, the amount they’re paid and any campaign donations or gifts they give. But unlike other counties, he’s proposing that registration fees – and not tax dollars — should cover the cost of carrying out the rules.
The proposal also would require elected officials to publicly disclose discussions with lobbyists aimed at influencing county business. For example, if county supervisors were considering a construction contract, the supervisors would be required to report any interactions with paid advocates related to that contract in time to be included in a public agenda report. Or, if they were unable to report the interaction in time, supervisors would have to verbally disclose the discussions before they vote to award the contract.
Dunn, who in November left his post as CEO for the California Medical Association and has recently opened a law firm in Orange County, says he’s proposing reform to help combat the public’s poor perception of government.
Supervisors have until 4 p.m. Thursday to put the issue on next week’s meeting agenda. Initial reaction is mixed.
Supervisor Chris Norby says the proposal would add "a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy" related to information that is already subject to public disclosure, such as campaign contributions and their calendars. He fears such reforms would discourage the public from meeting with supervisors – an important part of the public process.
"I don’t favor regulation of free speech," Norby said. "Anyone is free to come to me and talk to me about what they want."
Supervisor John Moorlach says he’s open to hearing more about the idea, but that he hasn’t "sensed a real abuse," or that any "monkey business" is going on. Aides for Supervisor Pat Bates and Bill Campbell said they are just beginning to review the proposal, and Bates also has asked county counsel to weigh in. Chairwoman-elect Janet Nguyen didn’t return a call for comment.
Government reform advocate Shirley Grindle said lobbyists have long exerted unfair influence in Orange County, and for decades she fought for changes to a county procurement policy she says gave firms with lobbyists an unfair advantage. While that policy was changed in 1998, Grindle is happy to hear that more change could be on the horizon.
"There is a tendency with this board and past boards that they want to protect the lobbyist’s income," Grindle said. "That’s because a lot of the lobbyists are former aides."
The Orange County Employees Association, the county’s largest union, helped Dunn with the legwork for the proposal. OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino acknowledges that his organization will be affected by the regulations, but he says it’s worth it.
"Orange County has been the open frontier, and anytime that political folks on either side of the aisle are allowed to run free, there are going to be abuses," he said.
Even if there is no lobbying abuse in county government, regulations are a "move in the right direction," says Jessica Levinson, director of political reform for the Center for Governmental Studies. She said such rules allow the public to see for themselves whether there is a connection between the interests of lobbyists with access to elected officials and the way those elected officials vote.
"This disclosure could increase public confidence in government," she says.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
The lead article for the OC Register’s Local section was “Retirees on O.C. payroll—Supervisors order financial review of 224 retired workers still employed by county,” by Norberto Santana, Jr.
The Treasurer’s office had two retired employees, both in their late sixties (or older), who bring years of experience and are a virtual whirlwind focused at the tasks at hand. It’s hard to beat the years of experience they provided with a temporary employee from an agency.
We still monitor this activity. The two highest users of retired employees? The Assessor and the Sheriff.
Here’s the opening paragraph and I was the closer for the piece.
County supervisors were startled to learn Tuesday that 224 retired government workers are still employed by the county, which allows them to earn both a pension and a paycheck.
County Treasurer-Tax Collector John Moorlach says the two retirees he uses help out during heavy times like property-tax filings and that they have specialized knowledge.
He welcomed the review but added one caveat against a total ban.
“Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” he said. “Eliminate the abuses, but allow for peak, seasonal uses.”
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