Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Orange County supervisors on Tuesday signaled support for a nearly $5.8 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year that includes the dumping of a watchdog agency for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

The supervisors slammed the job done by independent contractor Steve Connolly since the Office of Independent Review was created in reaction to a rash of excessive force cases in the Orange County Jail in 2008.

The county agency helps sheriff’s investigators review complaints and it reports directly to the Board of Supervisors.

The office’s annual budget of $450,000 will be removed from the coming fiscal year’s spending plan for the county. Connolly was making $210,000 annually plus expenses.

Board Chairman Todd Spitzer complained that the agency did little to warn supervisors about any issues and mostly just offered after-the-fact recitations of the conclusions made by investigators.

Spitzer pointed to the jailhouse snitch scandal that led Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals to issue an unprecedented ruling to remove the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from the prosecution of Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county’s history.

The fallout from the handling of Dekraai’s case has forced prosecutors to offer lenient plea deals to convicted killers in unrelated cases.

“The confidential informant (issues) exposed by (Assistant Public Defender) Scott Sanders has been on the front page of newspapers … it’s written about extensively, and yet, as supervisors, were now finally getting some insight into the informant situation,” Spitzer said.

“I just feel as a supervisor I’m completely in the dark, and I’m getting my information from the newspapers. I really should hear it from the person who has an inside track in the Sheriff’s Office.”

Supervisor Shawn Nelson noted he has consistently voted against funding the office.

“What we get regularly is a post-mortem telling us what we already knew,” Nelson said.

Nelson called the agency’s reports “sort of a stenographer’s version of what happened six months ago.”

“There’s no suggestion as to how to fix anything,” Nelson said. “I feel no connection to this office, and never have. This may have been a good idea, but it never got off to a good start.”

The annual budget is a 6 percent increase over last fiscal year.

County CEO Frank Kim told the board that a “slow consistent recovery” has allowed officials to try to catch up with deferred projects during the Great Recession, but not at the pace of previously more robust economic recoveries.

“It’s been difficult to address all the challenges that we have,” such as delayed maintenance and long-stalled pay increases for employees, Kim said.

By July 1, 2016, however, the county will have made its final payment on the debt related to the 1994 bankruptcy, Kim said.

The $22 million in debt payments related to the bankruptcy come out of the budgets for OC Waste and Recycling and OC Parks.

This fiscal year marks a significant first in that officials haven’t had to shell out $18 million from the general revenue to pay for bankruptcy debt.

The supervisors are expected to take a final vote on the budget at their June 23 meeting.

— City News Service

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