MOORLACH UPDATE — PA/PG & LA/SB — March 11, 2011

At 2:00 a.m., I received a call from the County’s Emergency Operations Center regarding the tsunami watch in effect due to the huge earthquake in Japan.  Consequently, it was very difficult for me to fall back asleep.  So, I spent quite some time praying for our coast and for Japan.  Needless to say, I am very relieved by the minimal impact the tsunami had here in the OC.  Japan, however, is still incurring large earthquakes and we need to keep this country and its citizens in our prayers.

Yesterday evening around 5:35 p.m., on KOCE’s Real Orange, County Public Administrator John Williams, announced his resignation, effective January 23, 2012.  He had sent his brief resignation letter to the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday with the request that we not discuss it until 7:00 p.m. on Thursday night.  The OC Register brings us up to date in the first article below.

In the meantime, Chair Campbell and I have submitted a supplemental item for next Tuesday’s Board meeting requesting our colleagues to put a measure on the next ballot (which would not be possible if Governor Brown had received two-third votes on his proposed measures by his self-imposed deadline of March 10th).  I am a strong defender of the taxpayers voting for elected officials in countywide roles.  However, the Public Administrator has always been a part-time position.  Someone with the appropriate skill sets can serve as both the Public Administrator and the Public Guardian.  Consequently, it seems best that the County appoint a qualified candidate to the joint position and, therefore, also have the ability to remove that individual if necessary.  If the Governor is successful in holding an election in late-June, then maybe you will have an opportunity to weigh in.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram provides its perspective on the super city concept in the second article below.

D.A.’s fiancee to be demoted, get pay cut

by Kimberly Edds, Staff Writer

Assistant Public Administrator/Public Guardian Peggi Buff, who was hired without having any experience and promoted from executive assistant to second-in-command of the Public Administrator’s office after five years, will be removed from her position and moved to a lower-paying county job as a result of a Board of Supervisors-ordered human resources audit, Total Buzz has learned.

Buff, who is engaged to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, was given a political appointment by Public Administrator/Public Guardian John S. Williams and then quickly promoted by him. Buff’s base salary nearly doubled during her time at the Public Administrator/Public Guardian, rising from $62,400 to $119,974 a year between 2003, when she was first appointed, and 2010. Buff did not respond to a request for her resume and did not immediately return a call for comment.

Buff will be transferred to OC Community Resources, which oversees animal care, parks, libraries, and community services, according to county Assistant Chief Executive Officer Rob Richardson. Buff will be making $95,680 a year as the agency’s volunteer coordinator – a far cry from the $127,000 she earned last year. She loses her executive manager benefits, including a car allowance and the county’s contribution to a 401 a retirement account, Richardson said.

Buff starts her new job Friday.

The political jockeying comes in the wake of intense criticism of the way Public Administrator/Public Guardian John S. Williams runs his department, calls for his resignation, and a claim filed against the county accusing Williams of negligence in the handling of the multi-million dollar estate of TapouT co-founder Charles “Mask” Lewis.

Williams now wants to keep his job until January 23, 2012 rather than stepping down from his position while county officials strip him of much of his power and restructure his struggling agency, Total Buzz has learned.

The retirement proposal, which was asked to be embargoed by Williams’ private attorney Phil Greer until 7 p.m. Thursday, comes after supervisors have repeatedly called for Williams to resign from his position as public administrator. The board will vote next week to formally strip Williams of his role of public guardian, an appointed position.

Also on the agenda is a request by Chairman Bill Campbell and Vice Chairman John Moorlach to put a ballot measure on the next statewide election to make the county’s public administrator an appointed rather than an elected position.

Whether Williams will continue to be paid his full salary if he loses control of the public guardian’s duties has still not been decided, said Deputy Chief Executive Officer Steve Dunivent.

Williams was re-elected in June and began a new four-year term in January. If Williams remains as he proposed, the county will expect him to continue to do the job he was elected to do, Richardson said.

“The expectation is as long as he continues to receive a salary from this county, there are certain duties that the public and the board expect will be done,” Richardson said.

Neither Williams nor his attorney immediately returned calls for comment.

A request was made to the Orange County grand jury Tuesday to open an investigation aimed at removing Williams from his elected role of public administrator. The request, made by community activist and former head of the political watchdog group OC Common Cause Bill Mitchell, also asked the grand jury to look into whether Buff was qualified for her job and pay.

Williams, a retired Orange County marshal with close political ties to Rackauckas and former GOP Chairman Tom Fuentes, has served as the county’s elected public administrator and appointed public guardian since 2003.

The Board of Supervisors last month agreed to hire an executive manager to overhaul the culture of the troubled department and make immediate personnel and policy changes. County Chief Executive Officer Tom Mauk has proposed having that manager take over the county’s public guardian role:  Overseeing the affairs of the elderly or ill who have no one to watch out for them.

In addition to the Lewis estate, where he was rebuked by the 4th District Court of Appeal, Williams was criticized in back-to-back Orange County grand jury reports in 2009 for “egregious” mismanagement, including dubious internal promotions that cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands. In the wake of those reports, Williams narrowly escaped having the Board of Supervisors strip his appointment as public guardian.

The fate of Williams’ two other political appointees has not been decided.

Shore Patrol: Cities resist a merger push by OC

Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach wants to merge Seal Beach with neighboring Rossmoor and Los Alamitos.

Leaders from the three communities aren’t biting, however, and the 2nd District supervisors will need to cast a new line.

Moorlach told the leaders – including Seal Beach Mayor Michael Levitt and Los Alamitos Mayor Ken Stephens – that the county could save about $600,000 annually on services given to the unincorporated community of Rossmoor, which is sandwiched between Seal Beach and Los Alamitos. Property taxes do not match the costs for services, since the state gets the bulk of those tax dollars, he said.

Moorlach said he’s not lost hope on the merger.

Levitt said he’s not interested in the merger plan, explaining there are two touchy political questions: Seal Beach is divided into districts; Los Alamitos has an at-large system – so which would survive? And which of the incumbents would remain on the new "super-city" council, and who would be bumped?

With budget deficits and cutbacks, there are economic benefits from a merger, according to Moorlach.

Cities could eliminate duplicate services and departments while maintaining their separate identities in the same manner Newport Beach encompasses distinct communities such as Balboa Island and Corona Del Mar, the supervisor said.

"At the end of the day, the big issue is what name we would use, and I think Seal Beach is fine," Moorlach told a reporter.

"It’s got salability and an intrinsic means of increasing property values."

Stephens said mergers of municipalities have worked, adding he’s willing to take the matter to the council – once a proposal begins to gel.

During the past few years, Rossmoor residents made it clear they don’t want to merge with Los Alamitos. Seal Beach residents don’t want to merge with Rossmoor.

However, the communities share a school district – Los Alamitos Unified School District – and a police dispatch center, along with youth sports leagues and recreational resources.

Stephens said the public needs more information to offset the "fear of change" during talks of merging.

"I’d rather see more discussion," he said.

joe.segura@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1274

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