Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Jeffries Tuesday will seek support for a proposal intended to increase pressure on agencies to redouble efforts to protect the county against liability exposure — and the costs of lawsuits eating into the budget every fiscal year.

Jeffries first broached his civil litigation monitoring policy in 2014, and it was partially adopted by the board in November of that year, but key provisions were left out which the supervisor believed necessary to curb liability expenses.

“Riverside County has reportedly paid over $100 million in claims since that time, and it is not at all clear that things have improved generally in the numbers or severity of claims against the county,” the chairman said in documents posted to the board’s policy agenda. “As such, this (proposal) will re-introduce the concepts from the original reform.”

Last month, Auditor-Controller Paul Angulo warned the board that the county’s liability expenses were approaching a level comparable to Los Angeles County’s, and he emphasized that the outgo to cover lawsuits would eventually become “unsustainable,” warranting closer attention.

To highlight his concerns, Angulo gave an example of a problem employee who was discharged from his office — only to find a job in another county agency, where the party in question, whose identity was not disclosed, proceeded to commit acts that resulted in civil damage to the county.

Under Jeffries’ proposal, the Executive Office would be tasked with completing a study within 90 days rating the feasibility of changing the current practice of liability payouts.

The thrust of Jeffries’ desired policy change would involve placing the burden of covering costs stemming from lawsuits on the agencies “responsible for the direct oversight, management, or supervision of the program or employee related to the cause of the underlying litigation or claim.”

The county currently operates a risk management fund, or pooled account, into which all agencies pay as a kind of self-insurance.

The premiums paid by each agency are based on claims history and “exposure data” analyzed by officials from the Department of Human Resources, Office of County Counsel and other administrators.

According to Jeffries, complete reliance on the risk management fund “obscures the impact of losses on the broader county budget and occurs largely outside the view of taxpayers,” making it difficult to identify what went wrong and where adjustments are needed to reduce liability exposure in the future.

The chairman’s proposal would permit continued draw-downs of the risk management fund, as long as it could be shown that “the actions or inactions of the county were within the normal routine course of duty or services, and not a result of faulty policies, training, neglect or management” of a specific department.

The reform would provide an opportunity for agency heads to appeal in open public session before the board for exemption of payouts from a departmental budget — or restoration of funds that were disbursed.

In 2014, then-Sheriff Stan Sniff vehemently opposed this approach, saying he would be exposed to “vulnerability” if placed in the position of arguing publicly about the different aspects of civil cases arising from the actions of sheriff’s personnel.

The sheriff’s position won sympathy from the majority of the board at that time. This resulted in a watered down “administrative protocol” that called for county executives to immediately report to the board “significant incidents” that could prompt a lawsuit; initiate an internal investigation of what transpired; and regularly report to the board all resolved or pending litigation.

Jeffries is the only supervisor left who was seated on the board in 2014.

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