SANTA ANA — A panel of public officials and business leaders met for the first time Friday to plot strategy for a $450,000 management audit of the county they hope will lead to leaner, more effective government.
Members of the audit oversight committee, appointed by the Board of Supervisors earlier this month, got their first briefing on how the county works now. They also discussed ways to ensure that the panel's efforts don't duplicate those already in progress by a web of other committees formed to explore privatizing and restructuring government in the wake of Orange County's Dec. 6 bankruptcy.
"We've certainly got to understand what these other groups are doing," said committee member Gary Hunt, executive vice president of the Irvine Co. "I don't know how you can reach down and do an audit while other groups are making recommendations" about what is being audited.
Added County Chief Probation Officer Michael Schumacher, who heads a strike team to identify cost savings and briefed the committee on the other efforts: "The dividing line between each of these ideas is not clear-cut."
Committee members said Friday that they envisioned the audit paring away at preconceived notions about county services, slicing into funds that previously have been deemed off-limits and building a new county operation from the ground up.
Only an outside eye can see through "assumptions built in deep to the culture of government," and recommend eradicating longstanding programs, said committee member Hugh Hewitt, an attorney and talk show host.
Former County Supervisor Bruce Nestande, the group's chairman, said the meeting helped bring everyone up to speed on the basics of county government so they can figure out how to pick it apart.
The committee plans to prepare a set of guidelines outlining the scope of the audit within the next two weeks. Auditing firms would then be invited to bid on the contract.
Committee member Bill Fogarty, executive secretary-treasurer of the Orange County Central Labor Council, said Friday that he continues to be concerned that business interests on the committee would push blindly for laying off employees and farming county services out to private companies instead.
While county staff members said they would return next week with information about what types of county services are mandated by state and federal law, Fogarty said he also wants staff to brief the committee about labor law.
"There are mandates on employee contracts--labor legislation that can't be arbitrarily changed," Fogarty said after the meeting.