And then there were Eleven: Looking at the remaining Clerk-Recorder candidates.


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Of the top five candidates for Clerk-Recorder, at least two – Dick Ackerman and Daly’s protégé Renee Ramirez – should be totally unacceptable.   Hieu Nguyen stands out as the best choice, in this author’s estimation.

Of the hundreds of OC citizens who would have loved to take Tom Daly’s place in the powerful, six-figure post of County Clerk-Recorder, the Board of Supervisors yesterday narrowed the list down to eleven – the number of candidates who got the support of at least two Supervisors.  I’ll narrow it down further here, to what looks like the top five contenders – the ones who got support of at least four of the five Supervisors. That would be:

  • Hieu Nguyen – assistant clerk of Board of Supervisors, former chief deputy recorder, ran for clerk-recorder in 2010.  Got unanimous support yesterday.
  • Bruce Peotter – attorney, former assistant public administrator/public guardian, ran for clerk-recorder in 2002, ran for assessor in 1998.  Got unanimous support yesterday.
  • Renee Ramirez – assistant clerk-recorder, who is currently running the department.  Got unanimous support yesterday.
  • Chris Norby – retired teacher, former state assemblyman and county supervisor.  Got support of all but Supervisor Moorlach yesterday.
  • Dick Ackerman – attorney, former state senator and assemblyman.  Got support of all but Supervisor Nguyen yesterday.

The case against Dick Ackerman

It’s disheartening that the former Senate minority leader has gotten as much support as he has so far;  I suppose these folks have probably all been friends for decades, but since terming out at the end of 2008 Dick has been one of the more crooked and problematic politicos in the OC.  Giving him another position of power would sure be the wrong signal to send in these troubled times at the County.  I hope the Supervisors at least question him publicly about the following matters:

Lobbying for the Fairgrounds Swindle.  The attempted sale and purchase of the OC Fairgrounds has been one of the most divisive episodes of our recent history, and it was very difficult and expensive to defeat.  There would have been no danger of it taking place if the state legislature hadn’t passed ABx4-22 late at night, with language buried in that bill authorizing the sale.  And that bill probably would never have passed without the (then-)respected just-termed-out Senate Minority leader lobbying for its passage, telling all the OC members falsely that the sale was something “Costa Mesa” and “the County” wanted.

Wait – lobbying?  Dick had only been out of the Senate about seven months, wasn’t there some “Milton Marks” law against legislators lobbying until a year is up?  Why, yes, there is, and so Dick’s apologists insisted he was merely “acting as a liaison” with the legislature.  Meanwhile he was being paid for that – paid SECRETLY, with public, laundered money, laundered with FALSE CLAIMS – by Dave Ellis and his cronies from the OC Fair Board who had (with Dick’s help) formed a “Foundation” to buy the Fairgrounds for themselves.  To help smooth out this crooked deal, Dick helpfully backdated his contracts.  He has refused to answer any questions about this episode, citing “attorney-client privilege” – which is utter nonsense, as he was not hired as an attorney but as a lobbyist.

Our District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has stubbornly declined to take an interest in any of this, but ANY SUPERVISORS WHO ARE CURIOUS are more than welcome to all the evidence we private citizens have assembled – phone records from right before the vote, billing records, and more.  Just give us a call – Todd?  Shawn?  John?  Pat?  Janet?  Dial 714-235-VERN, I’ll hook you up.

Pretending to still live in Fullerton so his wife Linda could run for Assembly there.  How hard it is for these career politicians to relinquish power, and follow the spirit of citizen-enacted term limits!  How hard is it?  So hard that they’ll try to insert their utterly unqualified spouse back into their old spot, and lie about where they live on top of it.  Senator Ackerman and his wife had moved into fancy digs in a gated Irvine community a full DECADE before Dick’s failed 2009 attempt to foist Linda on the 72nd Assembly District, but they registered to vote that year at a friend’s Fullerton home, where Linda purported to rent a small room.  Fortunately the shrewd citizens of that district caught on (thanks largely to Bushala’s blog) and instead elected local boy Chris Norby in the primary that year.

I could write more about Ackerman’s shady dealings of the past four years, but that should be enough.

The case against Renee Ramirez

In the only publicly extant photograph of Renee, she is hovering behind her mentor Daly.

The biggest reason Assistant (and currently acting) Clerk-Recorder Renee Ramirez should be considered unqualified is her destroying evidence pertaining to the questionable activities (and non-activities) of her boss’ cronies.  Since one Supervisor I spoke to yesterday had only glanced at Monday’s blockbuster Voice of OC piece, and apparently not read all the way to the end, I’ll reprint the final damning paragraphs:

…yet who Brandman met and how that benefited the clerk-recorder’s office is unclear.   Clerk-recorder staff purged Brandman’s public calendars, which is a regular practice when a department employee resigns, according to Ramirez. But according to open-government experts, that is a violation of the state’s laws on public records retention.

“Jordan’s [computer] hard drive, network account and email account were cleared out and deleted upon conclusion of his County employment. This is standard policy for those no longer employed by the Clerk-Recorder. I can’t say whether or not any calendar appointments ever existed,” Ramirez wrote in an email to a Voice of OC reporter.

As the story’s first commenter quickly retorted, “The county does NOT clean the hard drive etc. of staff after they leave. That work is transferred to the person who will need it for history or to take over the position. Unless…you have something to hide.”  If we have an aspiring DA on the Board of Supervisors, I’d think he might want to ask Renee, is that REALLY the policy at the Clerk-Recorder’s office, to purge all records of a departing employee, and how long has that been the case?  Or is this only done for special employees with special things that need to be covered up?

Tom Daly ran a Clerk-Recorder’s office rife with waste and cronyism, and make-work projects for insider pals like Jordan Brandman and Brett Barbre (Barbre who is busy now as head of MWDOC trying to make sure the whole County is on the hook for 30 years buying unnecessary overpriced desalinated water from Poseidon, but I digress…)   Jordan’s price named in this article was a typical funny figure – $24,900 – calculated to avoid having to be reported and approved by the Supervisors – a regular practice, and how do they like that?

And Renee has long been Daly’s hand-picked successor.  She must have blue balls by now, after all the times Tom’s planned to run for this office and that office and bequeath clerk-recorder to her, before he finally felt safe enough to make the jump to Assembly.  But letting Renee continue to run things would mean a continuation of this waste and cronyism, and this purging of records really is inexcusable – either a criminal act or a criminal policy.  Don’t you think, Supervisors?

[Ah, that's what I get for taking my time writing these pieces.  Asked and answered.]

The case FOR Hieu Nguyen

In stark contrast, former chief deputy recorder Hieu Nguyen was inspired to run in 2009-10 precisely to put a STOP to the cronyism and waste he observed in the Daly years.  To recap that convoluted period for those of us whose memories have become hazy, Hieu did NOT rebelliously run against his boss Tom the way that Bill Hunt ran against Carona or Kevin Vann ran against John Williams.

In fact Hieu’s 12-year stint at Clerk-Recorder ended in 2006 when he moved over to be Assistant Clerk of the Board;  it was three years later that he looked over at his old department and thought he could do a much better job running it.  But at that time the indecisive Daly was seriously mulling a run for Supervisor, and Hieu believed he would be running against Chris Norby.  THEN Asm. Mike Duvall had his “drippy” flame-out and Norby decided to go for the 72nd Assembly seat instead, and for several weeks Hieu’s opponent was thought to be Renee Ramirez.  THEN Daly got cold feet regarding the Supe race and decided to stay in his old seat, so it was Hieu vs. Daly.  But all along Hieu was speaking reformist sense, such as:

“I plan to review the mission of the Vital Records program and source of long-term funding of facilities and operations. I will conduct this review with the assistance of the CEO, Real Estate & Facilities Department. I will report the results to the Board of Supervisors in public meetings and request policy direction.

“Based on what I have read, I believe the purchase of the vacant office building for over $2.0 million was not a good decision and it is not feasible or cost effective to renovate it into a Vitals Records facility at a cost of $5 to $7 million. I also believe the scope of the collection needs to be limited to public records of historical significance.

“Tom Daly has awarded a number of consultant contracts to friends and political associates during his term. He has structured these ‘Sole-Source’ agreements to be under $50,000 thereby avoiding the requirement to obtain Board of supervisors’ approval. He has also split contract scope of work into phases to stay under the limit. He has also awarded contracts  retroactively for work completed and has paid for services that were never delivered or of little value.

“This practice will STOP 100% under my administration. I plan to run the department in a fiscally conservative manner and follow the correct contracting and personnel procedures to accomplish the work of the office. The funds derived from user fees need to fund the services and systems used and should not be diverted to pet projects and work for friends as has been the current practice.”

Wow.  This is what Hieu was decrying in 2009 – and just scroll up a bit in this article to see how all of that is still happening now – he sounds positively prophetic!  I believe Hieu shows the kind of reformist spirit we need in County government right now.

I also like that Hieu is not a career politician hoping to use Clerk-Recorder as a stepping stone to higher office; he resisted blandishments last year to run for Bustamante’s old Santa Ana Council seat, having no interest in what you and I call “politics.”   His eyes light up when talking about reforming the Clerk-Recorder office and running it happily until he retires – it’s his “dream job”  – what a nerd!   (Nor is he, as some fearful Democrats claim, a “Trannie” or acolyte of the terrifying Van Tran.)

Setting a new tone in Orange County Government

Unlike just about all the other smarty-pantses clogging the blogosphere, I’m not feeling cynical about our Board of Supervisors right now, and you don’t hear me saying “the fix is in” for one of their career pol cronies (or servant to career pol cronies like Renee.)  Having become acquainted will all three male Supervisors, I think they’re sincerely sick and embarrassed of how terribly the County has been run for the last several years;  this may also be true of Pat and even Janet.  And this appointment is exactly where they can start turning over a new leaf, by picking someone honest, competent, and independent.

There’s more to say, but I better get this out now before events overtake me again.  The public interviews next week should be a real show, we’ll be the first to let you know when they happen, and we will fuckin’ LIVE-BLOG!!!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.