Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby wants to bar the Sheriff's Department from handling security in the Hall of Administration after an investigator used a security camera to zoom in on Norby's notes and a colleague's BlackBerry messages during a board meeting.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors asserted control over security in the board chambers and weighed whether to hire a private firm or a local police department to provide security in the Hall of Administration.
The issue stems from a Jan. 13 board meeting when the Sheriff's Department stepped up security because of community tensions over layoffs and the sheriff's highly publicized decision to revoke concealed weapons permits. The boardroom's security camera, typically operated by security guards, was handled by an investigator during the roughly four-hour meeting and primarily used to pan the audience for suspicious or unusual activity.
When a concealed weapons advocacy group filed a records request for the security tapes last week, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said she discovered the camera had zoomed in on Norby's notes and Supervisor Janet Nguyen's BlackBerry.
Hutchens, hired last year after her predecessor was indicted, said she alerted both supervisors, launched an internal investigation and informed Stephen Connolly at the Orange County Office of Independent Review so that he could monitor the investigation.
Norby and Nguyen were granted a chance to view the tapes, but expressed outrage when they were not given copies of the entire recording. Releasing the recordings would jeopardize the safety of undercover deputies at the meeting as well as pose other security risks to ongoing investigations, sheriff's spokesman John McDonald said.
"The sheriff was upset about the taping of what was on their desks," McDonald said. "We've offered all five members of the supervisors copies of those portions of the tapes that were upsetting to the sheriff. And that was accepted by some members of the supervisors and declined by some others."
At Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, the supervisors unanimously approved additions to its rules and procedures that formally established its power over security measures within the board's chambers and affirmed its ownership of security recordings. According to the rule changes, these security recordings are "confidential and are not public," but can be made available to any board member upon request as long as it does not violate state law.
Norby also requested that the county examine contracting out the security for the Hall of Administration to a private firm or the Santa Ana Police Department. The county Civic Center is in Santa Ana.
County Chief Executive Officer Thomas Mauk said the building's security costs are about $800,000 a year. Mauk told the board he will report the full costs, possible savings and existing options for such a change.
"There's a price issue and there's a control issue," Norby said. "I'm sure we could save money and we'd also have more control.
"Right now," he said, "the sheriff has essentially said 'I'll do what I want, and what the board wants doesn't matter. And these security tapes are my property and I'm not going to give them to you'. Yet we know these security tapes include improper looking at the board, but we don't know what's on them because we can't see them. It's an odd confrontational tack to take. . . . I thought we'd be on the same side."