Five reasons you should care about the Orange County Commission textgate scandal
The state investigation may be concluding, but it’s far from over
Published: August 28, 2013
For Porta, the task force is a superfluous gesture, especially considering that pre-emption shouldn’t have even been necessary. The county charter would have allowed municipalities within Orange County to opt out; also, the policy would have come up for review after just one year.
“They fought this hard to prevent there being sick time for even a moment,” she says.
Riding out the clock
After the county blocked Citizens’ referendum from making the ballot, the group sued. In November, at a case-management conference, Citizens attorney Tom Shults complained that the county was dallying in both the methods and timing of its response to public-records requests for information from personal and county-issued electronic devices. He spoke of a “spider web of devices being delivered to who knows who and who knows where. … It’s going to turn into a really huge mess,” referring to the fact that the county had yet to settle on a universal method of retrieving deleted texts.
Since then, more texts have rolled out – in May, Circuit Judge Robert J. Egan vowed to review all of the released records privately, which will likely result in the actual trial being pushed back until next year. But the clock is running down on full retrieval of information, Shults says, and the reports he has so far received seem incomplete.
“It may be that the phones were turned in too late to prevent degradation of the information on the phone, especially degradation of what was deleted from the phone,” he says. “That was and still is a major concern. We feel that the county did not act quickly enough.”
For the duration of the sick-time conundrum, the county has made it a policy not to act quickly enough – to ride it out, to miss the ballot deadline, to let the state deliver the “kill shot” with pre-emption legislation, as Orange County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Lew Oliver notoriously texted to Commissioner Ted Edwards in September. In fact, Oliver all but instructed the commissioner to “kick this confusing little can down the road past the 18th [of September],” which would make it too late for the ballot. “I believe the mayor is relieved to see a continuance even if she doesn’t say so publicly,” Oliver continued. “She advised me last night to make sure continuance – if there is one – goes BEYOND the 18th.”
In fact, even before the Sept. 11 hearing, most of the commissioners had reportedly been lobbied into issuing statements that they wanted to wait the maximum amount of time (30 days) before holding a public hearing. When the courts initially called the county on its intentional delay, the county was given several weeks to review the ruling, thus rendering the ballot initiative moot. The county delayed and delayed to ensure that the business interests would win by default.
“I think it’s a relevant fact that what the commission was trying to do was not legitimate and was not lawful,” Shults says. “And at the same time they’re receiving all of these texts, many of which they chose to delete. Is there a connection between the inappropriateness of the delay and unlawfulness of the texts they received? I think it’s a valid question.”
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