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Jury Charges County With a Lack of Action

Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Grand Jury ended its term Friday by criticizing county government for studying and debating problems for years without taking action.

The 19-member panel wound up a yearlong term by faulting government for not recognizing the transformation of the county from a rural region to an urbanized area and for too often operating in a manner “reminiscent of yesteryear.”

Grand jurors said the expenditure of more than $1 million in the current fiscal year on consultants to perform work that would be done internally in most organizations was particularly troublesome.

“One must conclude that either Orange County government has not yet acquired the appropriate expertise despite its size, or that a proper level of confidence does not prevail toward those within the present government,” the grand jury’s report said.

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‘Rare Exceptions’

The jury said it recognized that some subjects required outside experts, “but these should be rare exceptions.”

Thomas J. Kehoe, the grand jury foreman, said at a news conference that the County Jail and John Wayne Airport were two county facilities that have been the subject of controversy for years, but supervisors have taken no action in those areas unless forced to do so.

Kehoe said that the building of a new jail would solve many problems, “yet you have to ask, whose fault was it that these things reached a panic stage in 1985?”

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In March, a federal judge in Los Angeles found the sheriff and the Board of Supervisors in criminal contempt for not complying with an order he issued seven years ago to end overcrowding at the jail. In subsequent months, the supervisors have spent millions of dollars to improve conditions at the Santa Ana facility, but they have yet to pick a site for a new jail, despite the unanimous opinion that one is needed.

Airport Target of Attack

The airport has been the target of attack by nearby homeowners who do not want it expanded, and also has been the subject of federal and state lawsuits.

When questioned, Kehoe spread the blame for the delay in finding a location for a new jail.

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“I think we have to blame ourselves, the voters, in many instances, for turning down appropriations for new jails,” he said, pointing out that the issue is not unique to Orange County. Across the nation, he said, voters have put the building of new jails and prisons near the bottom of their lists of priorities.

Yet Kehoe said the Board of Supervisors has the responsibility for long-range planning to meet the needs of a county that has doubled in population in two decades, is now the second largest in the state and has a budget of over $1 billion.


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