The union-funded Voice of OC continues their good exposure this week of what we’ll label the “cusp” positions in county government that the Board of Supervisors needs to fill: Board of Supervisors OKs Timetable for Filling Top County Positions. Nick Gerda wrote:
County supervisors adopted a process Tuesday to fill high-level elected posts and made it clear they don’t want the decision to be seen as politically motivated. They intend to appoint a new public administrator, clerk-recorder and auditor-controller, jobs that several high-level political players have been seeking.
Here’s a more detailed inventory:
- Clerk-Recorder (vacant now as former head Tom Daly was elected to the 69th Assembly District).
- Public Administrator (now managed by Lucille Lyon, “a veteran estate administrator who was appointed by the Board of Supervisors last July” after the disgraceful exit of “bitter, bumbling, locked-out ex-Public Administrator John Williams“). This elected post had once been combined with the appointed Public Guardian position, but Williams got himself fired from that job in 2011.
- Auditor-Controller (vacant due to David Sundstrom’s departure to a similar position in another county).
We really don’t buy the idea these appointments won’t be “politically motivated”. Much has been written about the maneuvering already underway, for example, by Shawn Nelson to keep Chris Norby and/or his former District rep, Bruce Whitaker, on a payroll replacing Daly. Bill Campbell’s Chief of Staff may also be interested in the Clerk-Recorder appointment. Janet Nguyen did well by some of her staffers like Matt Harper who’s managing the PR efforts for OC Waste & Recycling, a Department, like the I-405, you’d think shouldn’t need a spokesperson. Harper’s working for Supervisor Bates’ former Chief of Staff at this unit that the Voice called The Fifth Floor’s Recycling Bin. The article cites plenty of other BOS staffers that have continued their careers at other well-paying internal positions, and no one seems able to answer a question if these jobs occurred during a hiring freeze or were posted and visible to all according to county procedure. Outside the county organization, we’d believe that Supervisor Moorlach had something to do with his former Chief of Staff finding his way to the Assistant City Manager position in Costa Mesa.
It’s appropriate to ask WHY the three listed positions above — and let’s toss in the Assessor and Treasurer-Tax Collector as well — need to be elected positions. Is it old Spanish custom, or just because? These jobs are NOT making or changing public policy, or enacting law. We’d likely find other similar public sector organizations where these jobs are not elected positions.
Conversely, why are certain positions not elected — for example, the very visible Registrar of Voters or the Clerk of the Board (a few OC cities elect their Clerks)? How about major Department Heads like Animal Control, Parks or Public Works? Why is the District Attorney an elected position, and the Public Defender not? The County CEO has some of the powers of a big city mayor — maybe he should be elected? A related example is the OCTA Board — appointment to it, other than the Public Members, once involved the leftist League of Cities, but now it’s reportedly up to the County Mayors (most of which are rotated and not elected into their positions). Like School and Community College Boards, we believe the OCTA Board needs to be elected.
As in Daly’s case, the cusp positions can be springboards to higher office, and we believe that can be neglectful to the unit that requires competent, experience and full-time “C-level” management to operate, meet its objectives and provide the service level expected by the public.
Like elections of judges, it’s unlikely the average or especially the low-information voter really has much of an idea who’s the best candidate for Clerk-Recorder, or any of the other cusp positions. They’ll be swayed by a knock on the door, an ad, a slate mailer, a newspaper or political endorsement, or maybe a robocall, but substantive information, particularly in these officially non-partisan races, is hard to find. For the cusp jobs, ideology and party affiliation should be less important than one’s education and experience to adequately manage the work and operations that are run by unionized civil servants. Bluntly, these positions just aren’t important enough to be elected and are far more sensitive to having a qualified, experienced, referenced, tested, financially competent and honest manager in charge. As an obvious example (and there are others), John Williams proved exactly why Orange County does NOT need a hack politician running a Department with crucial fiduciary and legal responsibilities.
As the Supervisors ponder the three appointments, trying to remain apolitical and unswayed in not awarding those seeking them, we have a recommendation: Allow these jobs to stay open as their units are probably running adequately via the assistants and staff that have been in place for years — then place a referendum on the next County-wide ballot for the electorate to decide if they wish to continue to vote to fill these jobs, or change their status to simply be senior managers who are recruited, vetted and hired as the dozens of others in County employ. Further, Supervisor-elect Todd Spitzer needs to be involved in these decisions.
Our recommendation depoliticizes this administrative, operational and clerical side of county government, allowing it to run more like a business. These positions, the Clerk-Recorder, Assessor, Treasurer-Tax Collector, Public Administrator and Auditor-Controller need not be elected, they can simply be hired.
Here is the pertinent Section of California Government Code which covers the conversion of an elected Office to an Appointed one. An Initiative (which the Supervisors may place on the ballot by a majority vote) is required:
TITLE 3. GOVERNMENT OF COUNTIES
DIVISION 2. OFFICERS
PART 1. OFFICERS GENERALLY
CHAPTER 1. County Officers
24009. Elected county officers. (a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), the county officers to be elected by the people are the treasurer, county clerk, auditor, sheriff, tax collector, district attorney, recorder, assessor, public administrator, and coroner.
(b) Except for those officers named in subdivision (b) of Section 1 of Article XI of the California Constitution, any county office that is required to be elective may become an appointive office pursuant to this subdivision. In order to change an office from elective to appointive, a proposal shall be presented to the voters of the county and approved by a majority of the votes cast on the proposition. A proposal shall be submitted to the voters by the county board of supervisors or it may be submitted to the voters pursuant to the qualification of an initiative petition as provided in Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 9100) of Division 9 of the Elections Code. Any county office changed from elective to appointive in accordance with this subdivision may be changed back from appointive to elective in the same manner.