Last summer, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens boldly announced to county supervisors that the Office of Independent Review was the only thing keeping back a federal takeover of our local jails.
Well, last week OIR Director Stephen Connolly abruptly resigned.
And I’m starting to think a federal takeover may not be such a bad idea.
It’s likely a better deal for local taxpayers.
And much more transparent.
“That poses a very interesting question that certainly needs to be debated in an open and public way,” replied County Supervisor Todd Spitzer late Friday, adding that Connolly’s departure had him – a swing vote on OIR – questioning the concept as well as his own expansion of the idea last year.
Judging from the lack of public information from the OIR bureaucracy over the past seven years, it’s a fair bet to say we’ll get much more actionable information from federal monitors.
On Tuesday, Hutchens is expected to head into a closed session with supervisors and unveil the general fund price tag for an escape-proof roof at the Men’s Central Jail.
It won’t be cheap.
Also keep in mind these could likely be temporary fixes given that supervisors on Tuesday also will be talking in open session about reshaping the entire Civic Center complex — with a $150 million transformation in mind.
And don’t forget that your Deputy Sheriffs are also angling reportedly for a 12 percent raise in their contract talks, which hit official mediation earlier this month around the same time that crooks came shimmying down the front door of the jail in the wee hours.
Given the continually stunning revelations coming out of our jails (check out the lawsuit filed this month by the Deputy Sheriff’s union); and our courtrooms (check out R. Scott Moxley’s dogged postings at OC Weekly); and now the total failure of independent oversight – isn’t it more fiscally prudent to just call in the feds?
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas already did.
Rackauckas last month staged a sad press conference, where he himself had to call on the feds to investigate his own shop, admitting publicly that his hand-picked panel of legal experts told him his agency suffers from a “failure of leadership” and executives are too scared to tell him the truth – not to mention hostile to his own Nixonian-style press operation.
Now, why should taxpayers spend a bunch of money to upgrade aging and outdated jail facilities in a civic center looking at an overall upgrade — with seemingly systemic failures throughout the jails and criminal courts and a breakdown in independent oversight?
Spitzer keeps repeating, and he’s 100 percent on point, that in 2016 citizens expect more oversight of police.
“I don’t believe we’re ever going to be able to go backwards in our country to an era without some civilian oversight of police,” Spitzer said.
That’s why he said he insisted on keeping OIR funded last year, despite blowback from supervisors like Shawn Nelson and Michelle Steel – who I think correctly questioned continued spending on OIR.
So now, how do you double down on a law enforcement complex that seems to be faltering on the fundamentals?