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Grand Jury's Complaint List Is Rejected by Supervisors

September 25, 1987|DAVE LESHER | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Board of Supervisors Thursday formally rejected the major criticisms of the 1986-87 grand jury, insisting that its long-term planning is adequate and that the structure of the government should not be changed.

The supervisors have criticized many of the grand jury's reports as they were issued, but the 76-page written response issued Thursday was the first comprehensive answer to the complaints. State law requires that the supervisors respond to the grand jury.

The grand jury's report charged the Board of Supervisors with poor management and poor planning that contributed to a lack of jail space, freeway congestion, inadequate airport facilities and overcrowded courts.

Homeless Problems Cited

The jury also complained about the county's lack of attention to the growing problems of the homeless, undocumented aliens, and health care, particularly acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

In their written report, the supervisors reiterated that the county's solutions to the problems are limited by budget constraints and legal hurdles. The supervisors and county officials had also said that the problems listed by the grand jury are those being faced by all local governments.

In their written response, which will be adopted by the board on Tuesday, the supervisors boasted of their long-range planning accomplishments.

"To date, long-range planning efforts have addressed diverse, complex issues including a Comprehensive Health Plan and a Comprehensive Social Services Plan; the San Joaquin, Eastern, and Foothill Transportation Corridor plans; an Airport Master Plan that will result in new facilities in the early 1990s; a comprehensive Development Monitoring Program; and, strategic plans for courtroom acquisition and incarceration alternatives to relieve jail overcrowding," the report said.

James V. Robinson, foreman of the grand jury that ended June 30, said Thursday that he wasn't expecting the county to make many changes based on the jury's report.

"I'm not surprised at the county's report," he said. "County government is like all government: it's full of inertia; it isn't going to change until it is forced to change.

"A grand jury can only hope to stimulate public discussion. If sufficient interest is aroused, then the public will force the change."

Called Helpful Dialogue

Roger R. Stanton, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said Thursday that even though the county adopted hardly any of the grand jury's recommendations, the criticisms sparked a helpful dialogue in the government.

"Whether we agreed or disagreed with them doesn't change the fact that I think it has stirred up a lot of discussion and debate," Stanton said. "We were forced into a long and thoughtful process that was productive."

Stanton said there were "a lot of little things here and there" that the county implemented from the grand jury report, but "I don't think there was a major shift in policy because of anything in their report."

The 76-page county response addresses each of 103 grand jury recommendations separately. The jury's suggestions ranged from changing the name of the Orange County Fire Department (to Orange County Department of Fire and Emergency Services) to recasting the job of the county administrative officer.

The tone of the supervisor's response was conciliatory and cooperative, in contrast to the grand jury report which said, "management inefficiencies . . . hinder effective planning and decision-making."

The response was compiled by County Administrative Officer Larry Parrish's office but was based on input from the supervisors, said Sandra Ward, an analyst in Parrish's office.

One of the grand jury's most significant recommendations was to restructure the county administration so that department heads report to a county executive officer, similar to a city manager arrangement. Now, the heads of county agencies and departments report directly to the supervisors.

"The chief executive model is appropriate for private industry where there is no full-time board of directors," the county response said. "Its use in an elected representative government system with a full-time Board of Supervisors would essentially delegate the board's collective responsibilities to a third party."

The county response also said that it is prohibited by law from conducting at-large elections of supervisors, as the jury recommended. And it rejected a proposal to limit supervisors to two terms.

It also said a citizens planning and advisory commission would be too costly and duplicative of the 85 boards and commissions that already exist in the county.

The grand jury also recommended that the county step up its recruitment of minority and women employees. The county concurred with the recommendation but said it is actively following its affirmative action plan.

"It should be noted that Orange County is consistently rated the highest in the state toward meeting its affirmative action goals," the response said.

Ward said the county has adopted recommendations from the grand jury in its foster care programs. One idea was to regularly audit the service to make sure that policies are enforced. Also a plan was adopted to conduct exit interviews of foster parents and to limit the number of social workers involved in a case.

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