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O.C. Board May Prohibit Staffers' Capitol Lobbying

February 19, 2003|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Board of Supervisors, upset that county policies are being undercut by some department heads, may prohibit staff from lobbying lawmakers in Sacramento on issues that range from health care to environmental protection.

Members of the board in March will consider requiring that all communication with state officials go through the office of the county executive officer -- a proposal by Supervisor Jim Silva that has won the quick support of his board colleagues.

"From time to time, department heads will send letters with opinions without the county supervisors even taking a position on the bill," Silva said. "That has to change."

While meeting with lawmakers in Sacramento last spring, Silva was irritated to learn that a top official with the county Health Care Agency had sent a letter to Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) supporting legislation to limit the amount of soda being offered to children in public schools. The supervisors had never taken a position on the bill, said Silva, who could not recall who sent the letter.

"The county supervisors are elected to set county policy," not department heads, Silva said. "For my eight years on the board, I have felt this has been going on."

Silva said presenting a united front is critical, especially during the state budget crises. "The county has to pull together and speak with one voice," he said.

Dave Riley, chief compliance officer in the Health Care Agency, said he could not recall details of the incident Silva cited. However, he said the agency typically consults top county officials on state legislation.

"We are the county's representative on health issues," Riley said. But "we typically work very closely with the CEO's legislative office."

Board Chairman Tom Wilson said he believes that the incident to which Silva referred is isolated and that most communications already go through the CEO's office. But he supports Silva's proposal. "We shouldn't be sending mixed signals of any kind," Wilson said.

Wilson said any position the county supports will carry more weight if it comes from the board chairman, as it has in past years.

Policies restricting such lobbying are commonplace in municipalities across the state, said Megan Taylor of the Sacramento-based California League of Cities.

Most cities have policies requiring lobbying to be coordinated by the city manager. It's often more effective for large municipal governments to have only a few designated people who contact legislators on issues, she said.

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