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    Orange County should defund supervisors’ slush funds
    • February 21, 2024

    First District Supervisor Andrew Do’s directing of millions of dollars in county funds to a nonprofit without disclosing its ties to his daughter has roiled Orange County. Prominent voices within Little Saigon have called for him to resign, as has this Editorial Board. In November, we called it “the final straw after a series of troubling financial-related incidents.” We stand by that assessment.

    Nevertheless, the Do scandal isn’t solely about Andrew Do’s ethics. It’s also not mainly about the need for additional conflict-of-interest disclosures. We agree with Supervisors Vicente Sarmiento and Katrina Foley’s efforts to tighten up those oversight policies (which failed on a deadlocked board vote), but the scandal has simpler roots.

    Orange County provides each supervisor with a discretionary budget – a cynic might call it a slush fund – to spend on district-specific projects. Unlike in some neighboring counties, supervisors don’t subject their specific earmarks to a board vote. (The full board approves only general spending categories and county staff vets contract details.)

    As the Orange County Register reported, supervisors typically had $200,000 each to spend. Even that struck us an unusually large petty-cash drawer. Nevertheless, that number ballooned to $13 million after the federal government showered “free money” on county governments. That’s simply an asinine amount of largely unsupervised spending – and provides an open invitation for dodgy funding deals.

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    Despite her support for more oversight, Foley defended the discretionary program. “We’re just giving the taxpayers back their money,” she said. Bless her heart. Actually, government only gives taxpayers back their money when it provides a refund or lowers taxes – not when supervisors ladle millions on hand-selected agencies and nonprofits.

    We see the value in dedicating some portion of OC’s $9.3-million budget toward district projects, but if projects are worthy (as many of them are), there’s no problem holding hearings and a full vote. Public scrutiny provides a check on projects with potential conflicts of interest – and projects that serve a political rather than community purpose.

    At least the Do scandal has raised the obvious point: It’s time to defund supervisors’ slush funds.

    ​ Orange County Register