The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance that officials say will make often-contentious and opaque labor contract bargaining processes more transparent.

The Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance — which requires that both sides make their offers public before an agreement is reached, among other provisions — now moves to a second reading and possible final approval.

Supervisor John Moorlach proposed the county version of COIN, an ordinance that has been in place in Costa Mesa since 2012.

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  • Janet Nguyen

This week, he said he had set out to accomplish pension reform during his term as a supervisor, and an ordinance like COIN would contribute to that goal.

Labor leaders, however, have blasted COIN both at the county and city levels, saying it's a political ploy designed to distract from larger issues.

Contracts with outside agencies, they've said, deserve the same level of scrutiny as contracts with the county's own employees.

"I think this is just another idea that's probably a big diversion," said Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., the county's biggest union.

But supervisors agreed that the ordinance was a step in the right direction, and their discussions on the measure have focused on its finer points.

For example, while the ordinance as proposed included a provision that board members disclose any communications about negotiations that they or their staffers have with any known representatives of any unions in question, in the final version, that requirement was eliminated.

Supervisor Pat Bates said she believed that COIN presents an effective way of "showing that the final deals that are struck with our employee organizations are in the best interest of the public." However, she said, it was unfair to single out discussions with union representatives, while members of other groups could freely share their thoughts with supervisors.

After some discussion, the board also took up suggestions by Supervisor Janet Nguyen to extend the time members of the public will have to review the financial analyses of different offers from 10 business days to 30 calendar days and to insert a sunsetting clause, which ensures that an incoming crop of supervisors will have to reassess the ordinance before Jan. 1, 2017, when it is now set to expire.

Ultimately, board Chairman Shawn Nelson said, the ordinance is straightforward in its intent: to open up a process typically done entirely behind closed doors.

"I don't care about Costa Mesa. I don't care about cute acronyms," he said. "This is simply about the public and the press knowing what the deal is before it's a done deal."

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Proper signature gathering

At the meeting, the board also voted to put off deciding whether to move forward with an ordinance prohibiting county employees from gathering signatures for election nomination papers at work.

The proposed ordinance was prompted by allegations that county Assessor Webster Guillory gathered employee signatures for his reelection nomination papers during work time, Supervisor Todd Spitzer said — although he stressed that the measure would send a helpful message, regardless of Guillory's behavior.

The process for enforcing the rule proved to be the sticking point, after Spitzer presented a new version of the ordinance that he said took into account potential sources of contention.

The new version more specifically defined "workplace" in response to concerns that the term was overly vague.

Spitzer said the revised version also addressed concerns raised by union representatives, that the rule as originally written would affect employee association elections. Moving forward, union activity that's already recognized as legal will be exempt from the rule.

The item is set to be back before the board July 15.