Sunshine: The Best Disinfectant
March is swiftly approaching and for most California counties that means a bit of spring cleaning. As Santa Barbara County insiders know, however, we are not “most” counties – especially as it relates to transparency and possible corruption. Allow me to explain:
Once upon a time, our nation had a rich fourth estate and deep investigative journalism. Remember those two guys – Woodward and Bernstein – well, they broke a little story you may have heard about: Watergate. A story that toppled a president and led first-time Governor Jerry Brown and Common Cause to pass our Fair Political Practices Act (FPPA). The intent of the FPPA was to put an end to corruption in California politics which, here in Santa Barbara County, it definitely has not done.
One aspect of the FPPA is Form 700, which requires any public employee who makes OR influences policy to file a Statement of Economic Interest. Let’s say, for example, you’re a senior County Official – perhaps a Supervisor’s Chief of Staff – and let’s also assume the County was crafting a major piece of legislation relating to oil, or pharma, or even large-scale commercial cannabis. Well, what Form 700 would require is that you disclose any consulting income you might be receiving from these industries – because by any definition it is a “conflict of interest.” After all, Santa Barbara County employees are supposed to be serving the people while their salary and vesting pension is being paid by the people (obviously!).
With a Form 700 your outside money-making, conflicting and, yes, corrupting activities are exposed. This is especially imperative in a county where investigative reporting (other than the MJ) is extinct!
Why is our County uniquely different than most others? Because the fatal flaw in the FPPA is that it asks each county to set their own rules for implementation. And, you guessed it: Our County has its own unique ideas about who should be filing a Statement of Economic Interest and those ideas don’t extend to nearly the same number of employees as other counties (no, Chiefs of Staff do not file). Unfortunately, this is not hypothetical because we have had, and, for all anyone knows – still have – senior policy-creating staffers making thousands of dollars from Special Interests while they are being paid a taxpayer salary – wrong!
With bad governance comes lopsided special-interest-influenced policy. In Santa Barbara County we have no rational Form 700 filing requirements, no pre-vote moratoriums on Supervisor contributions, no Ethics Commission and no Revolving Door statutes which would preclude County employees from immediately lobbying once they leave the County’s employ. These rules exist almost everywhere except in our very bent, legally corruptible and always unaccountable, local swamp. This is why the people’s business continues to run a very distant second behind special interests.
So, on April 1, maybe someone will take a look at the few people in our $1.2 billion County who are required to file and sign “oh, good, things are rosy” but they are not. Many employees can and probably do make big special interest dough on the side and the sad fact is that in most instances we will never know. Things need to change and a Good Government platform is a great start – keep an eye on the upcoming elections in June and support the candidate(s) that support Good Government. Help provide Santa Barbara with meaningful sunshine because it truly is the best disinfectant!
Jeff Giordano, Santa Barbara County Resident