Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Orange County’s watchdog may be looking for wrongdoing at a lot more government offices in the future.

Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2  to approve expanding a watchdog department beyond scrutiny of the Orange County Sheriff.

The board voted to expand the Office of Independent Review to include oversight of the Orange County Public Defender, Social Services Agency, Probation Department and District Attorney. Supervisors Shawn Nelson and Michelle Steel cast the dissenting votes Tuesday.

Board Chairman Todd Spitzer and Supervisor Andrew Do, who were in charge of an ad-hoc committee studying the expansion, tried to assure union leaders who objected to any change without collective bargaining that they were only deciding whether to go forward with planning an expansion, not an actual expansion.

Spitzer also argued that the agency would not get into the nitty gritty of specific cases with complaints of misconduct.

“We have to be very, very careful in this area of law,” Spitzer said.

Do said Orange County residents “deserve to have faith in their political system,” and added, “fairness and justice should drive the way we operate.”

Do said the vote was one on “policy,” and the details will come later.

“Right now we need to decide policy and then personnel,” Do said.

Nelson blasted the idea of expanding the OIR, which all of the supervisors were disenchanted with for not doing a more thorough job of oversight on misconduct cases in the sheriff’s department.

“The OIR did not do what it was supposed to do,” Nelson said. “The OIR was absent and that’s why he’s not here anymore, so help me understand why when we are totally incapable of doing the OIR at a minimum level properly… why we would take an OIR that has not worked and expand that.

“So, we’ve got a mechanic who couldn’t fix a tire so let’s put him in charge of the engine and transmission. That will do it. This is ridiculous. No one would do that.”

Nelson noted that Orange County Public Defender wrote a letter to the board telling the supervisors “to basically shove it.”

Nelson said the only oversight a public defender essentially needs is the judge in a courtroom.

Nelson added he could support an expansion of the office  “if someone can show me if this small model can perform its basic functions before we expand.”

Steel sided with Nelson, saying, “We should make sure it really works the way it was originally intended… before we grow its size and cost.”

The board also accepted a report from Michael Gennaco, a principal of OIR Group, that offered recommendations on expanding the office. The board paid Gennaco $40,000 to do the report.

The committee was formed, and Gennaco was hired, because of the board’s dissatisfaction with the current Office of Independent Review, which was formed in February 2008 following the beating death of an inmate who was being held on suspicion of possession of child pornography.

—Staff and wire reports

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