Has Orange County’s Secretive Approach to Covid Contracting Gone Too Far, Broken the Law?

Bizar Male

The secretive approach to coronavirus contracts by Orange County supervisors continues to fuel confusion and concern – and is now triggering questions about whether county supervisors violated transparency laws.

The latest controversy blew up on Tuesday when hundreds of people showed up at a supervisors’ meeting and railed against digital proof of vaccination – after county officials suddenly added it to their vaccination app a few weeks ago without explanation.

County officials called it a “vaccine passport” in the app – using a term proposed by their vendor, CuraPatient – which was becoming a highly controversial term across the nation just as it was introduced to OC’s vaccine app, Othena.

In trying to put out that fire, supervisors and county staff quickly worked behind the scenes to change the app contract – but ended up doing it in a back-room way that sparked even more concerns.

When supervisors publicly questioned whether they broke transparency laws, neither the county CEO nor the supervisors’ chief lawyer said a word at the meeting about whether their approach was legal.

Under California’s open meetings laws, it’s illegal for three of the five supervisors to craft contract changes – or even communicate about any policy issues under their jurisdiction – outside of a public meeting.

Yet that’s what happened, according to two of the supervisors.

As a wave of hundreds of public commenters hammered supervisors Tuesday over “vaccine passports,” Supervisor Don Wagner revealed a closed-door process involving most supervisors that inserted language he had written against vaccine passports:

“I wrote it. The contract ad hoc committee [of two other supervisors] agreed to it. This is the sole discussion of [vaccine] passports in our contract,” Wagner said, referring to a $3.8 million contract increase for the Othena app.

The contract increase was signed on April 29 by county officials without ever being voted on publicly by county supervisors.

That’s sparking legal questions, including among the supervisors themselves.

Supervisor Andrew Do said Supervisor Katrina Foley was suggesting a Brown Act violation by the rest of the board, after Foley said a majority of the board participated in changing the contract while shutting the public – and Foley – out of the process.

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