The great gadfly

Uber-gadfly Shirley Grindle has been saying for years that it's time to hand her job over to someone else.

And what a job it is, enforcing the Orange County clean-government rules that Grindle is responsible for getting passed over the last 30 years. She scrutinizes campaign statements to see if candidates are taking donations above the limits. She keeps tabs on index cards, 50,000 of them boxed in a spare room at her house. She notifies the candidates when there's a violation; they grow nervous at the sound of her gravelly voice, and more than nine times out of 10, voluntarily fix the problem.

For all this, the pay is zilch.

Grindle is now 73, and with no one stepping forward to shoulder her low-glam task, she's decided, Grindle-style, to take action. Her most recent proposal is to replace herself with a county campaign commission; a separate ordinance would update existing campaign rules. Like Grindle proposals past, both deserve approval.

Previous initiatives include the county's 1978 ordinance to force elected officials to recuse themselves when they had a conflict of interest. It came on the heels of a scandal in which dozens of Orange County politicians, including three supervisors, were indicted on laundering campaign contributions and other charges. Grindle crusades have also imposed a campaign contribution limit on elected county officials and a ban on all but the tiniest of gifts to county staff.

Her latest is a modest, common-sense proposal that minimizes expense and fuss. Using existing county staff, it would assign a part-time director to review campaign statements and notify politicians and donors when limits were exceeded. A volunteer commission, appointed by a panel of retired judges, would meet quarterly to investigate and enforce, in civil court, the cases that couldn't be amicably resolved. And it would dump the index cards, setting up a long-overdue electronic filing system.

When the Board of Supervisors meets Tuesday, it should place these proposals on the June ballot. If it doesn't, Grindle almost certainly will manage to get them before the voters through the initiative process. The board might as well save her the trouble.

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