As one of its last official acts, the Orange County Grand Jury urged the Board of Supervisors and their staffs to go back to school to learn more about their official duties rather than passing down the job requirements as folklore.
The panel in its report also warned the supervisors that training would help them avoid "personal civil liability" for misconduct, an ironic statement following its civil accusations last week against Board of Supervisors Chairman Roger R. Stanton, Supervisor William G. Steiner and Auditor-Controller Steve E. Lewis of "willful misconduct" in office for failing to oversee the risky investments of former county Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert L. Citron.
"We don't want to be demeaning about this, but we got the feeling that a lot of these people felt they were above going back to school and learning," Bob Fauteux, one the grand jurors who wrote the report, said Friday.
"It became very obvious to us," Fauteux said, "there is sure a lot of touching up they've got to do."
Orange County's supervisors govern for 2.6-million residents and a budget in excess of $4 billion, yet "there exists no county orientation training or continuing education program for the supervisors or their staffs . . . despite the important and varied responsibilities of the board," the grand jury wrote.
In light of the county's bankruptcy and $1.64-billion loss because of the investment strategy pursued by Citron, the need for some sort of basic understanding of the state laws and the official duties of the job may seem self-evident, according to the report.
But the grand jurors discovered, after 18 months of interviews and testimony, that some supervisors and their staffs disagreed.
"There were people who did not impress us as to their desire to receive training or continuing education," Fauteux said. "There are very specific codes and laws, and it was very obvious that nobody had the inclination or interest to look at these things."
In fact, the grand jury discovered that information about the official board duties and the governing laws is passed down in Orange County from predecessors or other county employees and most supervisors simply learn what to do from "on-the-job experience."
The panel recommended that the county counsel be directed to prepare a manual summarizing the "legal duties, powers and responsibilities" of the supervisors, as well as other county officers.
It also recommended that the Personnel Department and the county counsel establish an orientation and training program for newly elected or appointed supervisors, and that supervisors and key staff members attend seminars and training sessions offered by the California State Assn. of Counties.
"To avoid personal civil liability for misconduct, each supervisor should be aware of the duties imposed on his or her office," the grand jury wrote. "He or she could be charged with willful or negligent violation of the law."
David Kiff, chief aide to Supervisor Marian Bergeson, said, "I don't think we're above anything like this."
Kiff said he would welcome continuing education and training. He noted that, because Bergeson served in the Legislature before returning to the county, "we had a little bit of an advantage because Marian knew so much about the state and the relationships."
But Kiff doubts whether educating supervisors and staff members is enough to prevent another investment pool collapse.
"That's more of a daily diligence kind of thing." he said. "But it would give you the exposure of the various areas and departments to know where and when to ask questions."