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OCTC Consultant-Hiring Power May Be Curbed

Times Urban Affairs Writer

A flap over the hiring of Newport Beach Councilman John C. Cox Jr. as a consultant will probably cost Orange County’s transportation chief some of his authority, officials said Friday.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley, who is also chairman of the Orange County Transportation Commission, said the seven-member commission on Monday will strip commission Executive Director Stanley T. Oftelie of his current ability to pay consultants more than $10,000 in a single year without the commission’s approval.

Oftelie has paid Cox, who owns a Newport Beach-based public relations firm, in installments, using purchase-order documents. This procedure circumvented a commission rule that requires advance commission approval of contracts worth more than $10,000.

“The procedures weren’t tight enough, so we’re going to change them,” Oftelie said.

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Oftelie disclosed last month that he had hired Cox to help negotiate with representatives from the county’s 28 cities on spending formulas contained in the Transportation Commission’s proposed 20-year traffic improvement and sales tax plan. The commission is scheduled to consider the sales tax plan on Monday for purposes of calling a Nov. 7 special election. Riley, acting as chairman, had personally approved Cox’s hiring, but some commission members said recently that they had been unaware of Cox’s role. Some officials, however, have said recently that Cox had done little except talk to city council members at regional meetings that he must attend anyway, and that in some cases, he did not properly disclose his role as an commission consultant.

However, in a report to commission members, the OCTC staff concluded this week that Cox had performed his assigned task well and recommended that he be paid a second $10,000 installment on his contract. Cox has billed the commission for $20,000 under an agreement that called for him to be paid $5,000 a month. He has already collected $10,000.

Riley said Friday that the second $10,000 payment will probably be approved.

“There was no doubt in my mind that John Cox earned the money,” Riley said.

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Riley added that a more serious concern was the potential for negative public reaction to hiring Cox at all, regardless of his professional talents as a public relations consultant.

Said Riley: “I told Stan it probably was not a good idea to hire a city councilman in the first place.”


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