How's this for bureaucracy: The county's top watchdog committee is asking for another committee to make sure the first committee's recommendations are implemented.
In its most recent report, the Orange County Grand Jury found Tuesday that no means exist to determine whether the investigative panel's recommendations are ever implemented.
As a result, the panel has asked that a special "tracking" committee be created to ensure that county government agencies are not disregarding jury findings.
"Frequently grand jurors have been heard to say, 'We'll devote a year to making recommendations and never know if anything is done with them," the report says. "There is . . . no official documentation of whether the accepted recommendations of any grand jury have ever been implemented."
Although the study did not include instances in which the panel's findings were dismissed, The Times reported last month that warnings issued by two separate grand juries concerning the potential for waste and abuse in county special district governments were never heeded.
The past grand jury reports, issued in 1981 and 1987, foreshadowed the troubles that now engulf the Santa Margarita Water District.
Superior Court Judge Michael Brenner, who oversees grand jury operations, said the panel's latest request was appropriate and might save valuable work from being "flushed away."
A principal function of the grand jury, in addition to its role in evaluating evidence in criminal cases, is to work as the public's watchdog by reviewing county government operations and issuing recommendations for improvement when weaknesses are identified.
Every year, jury panels focus their attention on the workings of dozens of government functions, from jail operations to the bureaucratic wars waged against air pollution.
In a study released Tuesday, however, jurors found that it was unclear whether suggestions were being adopted and that juries were often duplicating the work of past panels.
Reviewing the work of previous grand juries, juror Mike Harris said the reports revealed "much repetition on various subjects." Harris suggested that the creation of a tracking committee could also provide direction for incoming panel members.
"We come in as grand jurors with zero knowledge," Harris said. "We read past reports, but there is simply no way of knowing what happened following the grand jury's review."
In the past grand jury reviews of special district governments in the county, jurors called for greater accountability and consolidation within the wide-ranging network of agencies.
The 1981 study concluded that the districts operated in a climate of obscurity and were being perpetuated by a core of directors who remained insulated from public scrutiny.
The findings closely parallel recent criticisms in Santa Margarita where the water district's top executives are the targets of a joint investigation by the FBI and the Orange County district attorney's office concerning alleged violations of a variety of ethics laws.
Orange County Supervisor Roger R. Stanton said Tuesday that he supported the jury's latest request for a tracking committee.
"I knew something like this might be coming out," Stanton said. "I'm not surprised. It's appropriate to have some accountability attached to this process. People spend a year of their life working on this stuff, they deserve to know what happened to their recommendations."
The report indicated that a tracking committee could be created at no cost to the county and be filled by volunteers who have served on previous jury panels.
Creation of the committee must be approved by the Board of Supervisors, but it is unclear when the board would consider the jury's request.