Turmoil Continues in County Government!




Turmoil: Painting by Michael Lang.

Some of it has already started, but the next month or so will see turmoil within and about county government accelerate.

Currently the race for the vacant First District Supervisor seat is boiling in what some are presenting as a battle between the Vietnamese and Hispanic Communities. According to a story in The Voice of OC, the battle over the seat that developed when Supervisor Janet Nguyen was elected to the California Senate has seen her telling the Vietnamese Community that it needs to rally around a community candidate and that the county service center office she was able to establish in Westminster to provide access to welfare programs is at risk of being closed if the wrong candidate wins the election.

The special election to fill the seat is to be held on January 27.  In this politically and culturally charged environment we can expect a significant portion of ballots cast to be in the form absentee ballots, possibly setting the stage for charges of election fraud before it is all over.

At the same time, County Supervisor John Moolach left the Board of Supervisors as he hit the wall of term limits.  Often touting that as a CPA he could make more money in the private sector, he has instead cast about over the last few years exploring other public offices for which he could run.  Now he has announced he will run for the 37th District State Senate Seat that became vacant when Mimi Walters was elected to Congress last November.  Moorlach seems to be known for three major things – having taken credit for spotting the bad investment practices of the County Treasurer in the early 90’s that led to the 1994 county filing for bankruptcy; opposing most anything the county employee unions have sought, including calling the leaders of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs union thugs; and a persistent inability to muster support to run for other elected offices he has shown interest in pursuing – including at one time Governor.

That special election will be held on March 17. Moorlach’s opponent in the race is another Republican, Assemblyman Don Wagner of Irvine. According to press accounts, he has raised over $200,000 he can use to campaign for the seat and some coveted endorsements, such as Janet Nguyen, Pat Bates and Sheriff Sandra Hutchins, whereas Moorlach has very little campaign funds available and has not announced any prominent endorsements. If Moorlach loses this one, or simply drops out of the race, will he disappear or will he pop up in some other political setting? Those who know him and his penchant for being available to the press to be quoted on most any topic government suspect he would not be good at disappearing.

The press has reported that County CEO Mike Giancola will be going out on medical leave for a while, and that Giancola planned to name his chief deputy Mark Denny as acting CEO during his absence. However, that created controversy because Denny was involved in a Republican Party political maneuver that led him to plead guilty to voter fraud in the 90’s and if made the Acting CEO he would be in charge of all county departments that have an appointed department head, including Voters Registration. Given the January 27 First District special election that would be cannon fodder for all kinds of allegations related to the vote counting process.

In addition, there is an allegation involving possible violation of county contracting regulations when Denny was OC Parks Director prior to his Chief Deputy CEO job.  Last year Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson ordered the CEO to have that allegation investigated and to recommend appropriate disciplinary action if warranted. Fast forward to January, 2015 and that investigation, contracted out to a law firm, is not finished.  Incoming Board Chairman Todd Spitzer according to press reports has expressed frustration with the delay and stated that while the investigation is pending it would be inappropriate to have Denny serve as Acting CEO.  So it is likely some other poor sap will be given that temporary assignment.

With the new year and the departure from the Board of Supervisors of John Moorlach (termed out) and Patricia Bates (elected to the state Senate) two newly elected Supervisors – Lisa Bartlett and Michelle Steel – are now on the Board. As mentioned, Todd Spitzer is the new Chairman of the Board which sets the stage for some interesting times as he is no shrinking violet when it comes to expressing his views of what ought to be and bulldozing things to make it happen. A sign of the newness (and some would say inexperience) on the Board is that Bartlett has been named as Vice-Chair even though she has been a Supervisor for just a couple of months.

Reportedly Nguyen and Bates are not being warmly received in their new legislative jobs in Sacramento by Democrats who control most everything, including the allocation of office space.  It could be understood if these two Orange County Republicans have a bit of buyer’s remorse as they seek a place to physically hang out.  (When Todd Spitzer arrived in Sacramento as a newly elected OC Republican Assemblyman a few years back there were reports that the Democrats assigned him a broom closet as office space.)  Come to think of it, new Supervisors Bartlett and Steel could also understandably have some of the same kind of remorse now that they have seen all these (and probably more) issues.

Other issues are bubbling up. At least one County agency/department head has (or soon will) announced he is going to retire, leaving a critical position to be filled. And two new elected officials, Auditor-Controller Eric Woolery and Assessor Claude Parrish, have just assumed their office. Woolery, a CPA like Moorlach, who until he was elected to this job worked for the Riverside County District Attorney, began by threatening to sue the Board of Supervisors and made some personnel changes that smack of the cronyism and rule breaking for which former Public Administrator-Public Guardian John Williams was known.

So, there is plenty to watch in and around county government as 2015 unfolds. And, some would argue that this article only touched the tip of that iceberg.

About Over But Not Out

A retired Orange County employee, and moderate Republican. The editor seriously does not know OBNO's identity as did not the former editor, but his point of view is obviously interesting and valued.