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The Case for a Monitor

February 16, 2003

Orange County Supervisors Chuck Smith and Chris Norby are right to call for the creation of an oversight committee to monitor the county's troubled human resources department.

Allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation inside the department are swirling, and the Orange County Grand Jury already is interviewing county employees. The grand jury report may not surface until late June, so rather than risk another county department in chaos -- remember the Planning and Development Services Department's recent implosion -- the county should create the committee.

The proposal surfaced in December when a group of county employees studying ways to balance future county budgets was hamstrung by costly employee benefits approved by the Office of Human Resources. Though the changes ultimately were approved, Smith complained that supervisors were boxed in because the changes had already been negotiated. Such potentially costly changes -- involving who gets annual leaves and retirement incentives -- shouldn't be handled at the department level.

Balancing the county budget is tough enough in a normal year. But normal is a state the county hasn't seen since shouldering the financial burden created by the 1994 bankruptcy.

Sacramento is leaning on local government to solve its huge shortfall. Supervisors who will be cutting health and welfare programs don't need costly surprises like those provided by the human resources department.

Former Supervisor Cynthia P. Coad dismissed the allegations that the grand jury is investigating as "old news." But old or new, the county can ill afford to ignore additional allegations of inappropriate sexual banter, hostile behavior and abuse of authority.

Top county offices are in a state of flux. The chief executive recently was fired. The planning department chief retired. The registrar, the director of social services and the public defender all are retiring. The Board of Supervisors has two new members.

With so many important jobs changing, there's no such thing as too much oversight.

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