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    OC Board of Supervisors to discuss updated conflict of interest policies at later date
    • December 20, 2023

    The OC Board of Supervisors will circle back in January on a proposal to broaden conflict of interest policies to give Second District Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento more time to work out the potential new language.

    Sarmiento proposed the policy updates at Tuesday’s board meeting following reports that First District Supervisor Andrew Do voted on funding for subcontracts with a mental health program without publicly mentioning a close family connection.

    “I do believe that there are some items that I do want to make sure we are clear on. There are some implementation issues that I would like to tighten up,” Sarmiento said. “But I do know that for me it’s such an important item that I want to make sure that we get this right.”

    In the last two years, Do voted with other members of the OC Board of Supervisors to approve two subcontracts that included the Warner Wellness Center, for which his daughter works, without disclosing the family connection during the votes. One contract was for up to $625,000 and another for up to $2.5 million and were for mental health services, such as for the expansion of the county’s warmline.

    The county’s conflict of interest policy follows state law, which says public officials cannot make decisions that would financially benefit their minor children, however, it does not apply to adult offspring.

    Sarmiento’s proposed amendment to county policy would require disclosures of family connections before votes and would broaden the definition of family relationship, defining it as by “blood, adoption, marriage, domestic partnership and cohabitation.”

    His proposal also extends that requirement to district office employees.

    Do did not speak during the supervisors’ discussion and declined to talk with a reporter on Tuesday. In an op-ed Do penned that ran in the Register he said the Viet American Society, of which the Warner Wellness Center is a DBA,  “was already under three previous county contracts during COVID, well before my daughter was hired as an employee to help run its mental health clinic.

    “Of note, my daughter was not a director or officer and she did not handle any of the nonprofit’s finances,” he said. “She did, though, have mental health experience (the Steinberg Institute) and is dual-language fluent — essential for Orange County’s Vietnamese-American community.”

    Fifth District Supervisor Katrina Foley raised a concern with language in Sarmiento’s proposed policy additions surrounding county staff.

    “I just want us to be careful about language that relates to our employees. For my staff, I don’t know what they do in their private lives, I don’t know who their family members work for, etcetera,” Foley said. “So I just think that if you could please look into that, make sure that we’re not forcing the supervisors to invade the privacy of our employees, of our staff. I think that there’s some language tweaking that might need to be done with respect to that section.”

    Sarmiento is also proposing new guidelines for district discretionary projects that would address how board members submit funding for approval, including a requirement that organizations can spend no more than 20% of funding on “indirect or administrative costs.”

    Foley also asked for more clarification on what constitutes as an indirect cost.

    “I try not to have very high administrative costs on any of my grants, I think that’s good practice, but it depends on the grant because maybe it’s for something that has a lot of marketing attached to it,” Foley said. “You might have more than 20% of the grant that would go to marketing. Is that an administrative cost? I don’t know. Those are the issues that I hope that you’ll look at.”

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    ​ Orange County Register