The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday directed its lawyers to draft both a groundbreaking ban on practically all gifts to county officials and a broader code of ethics in the fallout over the scandal involving former Supervisor Don R. Roth.
County officials have discussed both issues in recent weeks, agreeing informally to move ahead with the two measures in an effort to restore public confidence left shaken by Roth’s resignation March 1.
But supervisors took their first official action Tuesday, telling County Counsel Terry C. Andrus to come back to them with a gift-ban ordinance within 60 days. The code of ethics would follow within another two months.
“Recent events have heightened the need to restore the public’s trust in the officials it elects to represent them,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Harriett M. Wieder said in reading from a prepared statement.
The vote was unanimous, 5 to 0, despite some misgivings voiced by Supervisor Thomas F. Riley.
The board’s elder statesman with nearly two decades of service, Riley has said he believes that a ban on gifts to officials from business people would amount to a tacit acknowledgment that public officials can’t be trusted.
He stressed at Tuesday’s meeting that he still feels “a great deal of confidence in our county family” and believes in its “integrity.” But he agreed to go along with the board action, nonetheless.
Experts in the field of political reform law say a virtual ban on gifts to elected officials, appointees, and staff members--as is now being discussed--could give Orange County the toughest ethics law in the state.
But questions remain about how the proposed ban would work, and several supervisors say they want to ensure that the measure would not block civic and charity groups from giving them token gifts of thanks or from inviting them to many of the community events they now attend.
Gifts are at the heart of the Roth matter, in which the district attorney’s office has been seeking to determine whether the former Anaheim mayor traded political favors for thousands of dollars in unreported meals, trips, home improvements, stock and other items from people with government business.
Roth, 71, has denied any criminal wrongdoing.