Test Case: St Watchdog Agency Could Provide Ethics Oversight to SB County if Bill Approved

San Bernardino County might leave its dirty work to the Fair Political Practices Commission in what would be the first local government in the state of California to outsource ethics oversight. The question is whether the Legislature will stand in the way or approve a bill that would allow the state agency to step in and get to work cleaning up the dirty politics -- i.e. corruption -- that have plagued the county. As it stands, there are no laws on the books that allow this service to be extended to a local government like the county, which notably lacks an ethics board of its own. The deadline for such legislation to pass out of policy committees is April 27th, so the clock is ticking and it was recently reported that the bill is stalled.

So why can’t the county just handle the duty on its own? Officials felt a grand jury panel would lack legal expertise and Supervisor Janice Rutherford commented that having supervisors appoint an ethics commission would be like a “fox guarding the henhouse.” The county agreed that the FPPC has the experience and gravitas to handle the role and the state agency proved willing to take on the responsibility.

The Press Enterprise reports the following on what the service would entail: “A possible agreement between the county and the commission would provide for ‘concentrated involvement’ in the county. There have been only preliminary discussions on what that would cost. Rutherford said she envisions a contract of $100,000 to $200,000 annually that would include random audits of county campaign committees, training, crafting contribution limits and other services.”

In an editorial from the local newspaper, the Legislature is called on to approve the bill so that local political money can be monitored and accountability increased. The Press Enterprise editorializes, “Legislators should realize that the state ethics panel needs to be part of the county’s efforts to impose higher standards for official behavior.” Read the full article here.

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