Orange County supervisors on Tuesday failed to approve nearly $400,000 in funding for a Sheriff's Department survey of attitudes about the agency, which critics of Sheriff Michael S. Carona called a thinly disguised political poll that he wanted to conduct with public funds.
Among more than a dozen questions about policing priorities and safety concerns, the survey asks whether respondents' impressions of the sheriff are favorable or unfavorable, according to the version Supervisor Chris Norby read aloud during the board meeting.
Supervisors took several votes on the matter but were unable to break a deadlock, with Norby and Lou Correa opposed and Tom Wilson and Jim Silva in support. Board Chairman Bill Campbell was in Washington, D.C. The matter will come before the board again next week after he returns.
Money for the survey was supposed to come out of a fund set aside for public safety services under Proposition 172, an initiative that increased the state sales tax half a cent on the dollar. The sheriff's critics said such an expenditure would be an abuse of the fund's intent.
Tim Whitacre, a critic of Carona's who campaigned for challenger Bill Hunt in last month's election, urged supervisors to have the "intestinal fortitude" to reject the contract. "There is no excuse for you guys to be rolling over every time [the sheriff] comes before you," he said. "Let him pay for his own polling from his own campaign funds."
Carona narrowly won reelection despite criticism of his management of the department in recent years, including accusations that he issued badges and concealed-weapons permits to campaign contributors without conducting background checks on them.
The department wants to award the contract to Scott P. Bryant & Associates without putting it out to bid. The county would pay the firm $396,000 to conduct an annual survey for three years. Bryant has done a range of consulting work for the county and the Sheriff's Department since 1999. The survey would seek responses in 12 cities where the department provides police services under contract. It would also include an employee survey and a management review.
Assistant Sheriff Jo Ann Galisky disputed the notion that the survey was a political poll and said the question about attitudes toward the sheriff was really about the department as a whole. She told board members the survey was a valuable tool to set policing priorities and "get feedback on how we're doing our job."
But Norby, the board's biggest critic of the contract, said the questions posed would produce little useful guidance on how to manage the department better. "The questions don't have any value to us as a county, or as a police agency," he said.