MOORLACH UPDATE — Clerk-Recorder — April 4, 2013

In 2002, I had hoped that my good colleague Gary Granville, a fellow county-wide elected official, would endorse Bruce Peotter in his campaign to succeed him as Clerk-Recorder. Every conversation with Gary was always pleasant. Gary had been extremely affirming and encouraging of me and the work I was doing as the County’s new Treasurer-Tax Collector. But Gary surprised a lot of us and decided to back the Mayor of Anaheim, Tom Daly, as his potential successor. One morning in March 2002, I saw Gary downstairs in the lobby of the Hall of Administration. He was walking with Hieu Nguyen when we bumped into each other. Gary confronted me about Bruce Peotter’s ballot qualification statement. Gary thought that I had a hand in writing it. I didn’t. I did request of the Peotter campaign that it be kind to Gary. Gary took whatever was written personally and, assuming that I was involved, gave me a piece of his mind. Nothing I said could calm him down, which got me a little riled up. Hieu Nguyen witnessed the entire encounter and we both still talk about that morning to this day. Regretfully, that was the last conversation Gary and I had. He went into the hospital not too long after that and then passed away. I know now that his anger that morning was due to his failing health. Tom Daly and Bruce Peotter were the two highest vote getters in the June Primary election and Tom narrowly defeated Bruce in the November General election. When the vote at Tuesday’s Board meeting came down to two finalists, Hieu Nguyen and Bruce Peotter, I decided to continue my support for Bruce.

The Voice of OC covers the day’s events. I apologize for referring you to the County’s website to observe the meeting in Tuesday’s UPDATE. Due to the sequestering of the eleven applicants, the meeting was embargoed until all of the candidates had been interviewed. It is now available on our website for viewing. I want to thank the nearly 900 individuals who applied for the position. I want to thank all of the eleven finalists who were interviewed. And I want to sincerely congratulate Hieu Nguyen and wish him all the best in his new role as the County’s Clerk-Recorder. I will certainly be doing all that I can to help him be successful as he steps into a beleaguered Department.

Hieu Nguyen Named New Clerk-Recorder

By NORBERTO SANTANA JR.

Hieu Nguyen, a longtime Orange County worker, was appointed as the county’s next clerk-recorder by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday after a daylong session of public interviews.

Supervisors voted 4-1 for Nguyen, who unsuccessfully sought election to the post in 2010. Supervisor John Moorlach, who said he preferred another candidate, was the lone dissenter.

Nguyen topped a field of 11 finalists for the position, which became vacant after incumbent Democrat Tom Daly won election to the Assembly. Nguyen will have win election to the post in 2014.

After Supervisor Janet Nguyen, he becomes the county’s highest ranking elected official of Vietnamese descent and is likely the nation’s first clerk-recorder from that community.

While Nguyen didn’t give the best public interview, controversy over Daly’s administration of the office, including questionable uses of restricted funds, building purchases and consultant contracts motivated supervisors to avoid appointing Rene Ramirez, Daly’s second in command and 22-year veteran of the department.

Several other politicians, such as former Assemblyman and Supervisor Chris Norby, former state Sen. Dick Ackerman and Newport Beach City Councilman Steve Rosansky, also vied for the job.

Nguyen, a Republican, started working in the clerk-recorder’s office in 1993 but left in 2006 to work for the clerk of the Board of Supervisors. He ran for clerk-recorder in 2010 using the ballot title of assistant county clerk but was successfully challenged by Daly in court and later bested in the election.

Nguyen’s chances for appointment were significantly bolstered by a public op-ed in The Orange County Register by Dale Dykema, a high-level GOP donor and former Orange County Fair Board member who is founder of TD Service Co., a locally owned mortgage service firm.

“I have the knowledge and experience to a good clerk-recorder,” said Nguyen in his public interview.

“This is the position I have aspired to,” Nguyen told supervisors. “This is the only job I want for the rest of my career.”

Nguyen, whose father was an American soldier killed in Vietnam and is a 34-year resident of Orange County, is now charged with revitalizing a beleaguered clerk-recorder department.

Supervisor Pat Bates said Nguyen’s passion for the job is what landed him on her final list. “It’s the love of his life,” she said.

Echoing the sentiments of other supervisors, Bates said there was a desire to see change at the office, highlighting a Voice of OC article that focused on a $26,400 consulting job granted by Daly to Anaheim City Councilman Jordan Brandman.

“The deliverables [Brandman’s overdue report on opening satellite offices] were questionable,” Bates said.

Board Chairman Shawn Nelson kept the daylong session moving expeditiously, culling potential candidates with straw votes and overcoming preferences by other supervisors to delay final action until April 16.

Nelson called Nguyen an “obvious choice,” noting there was a desire for change at the office.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he felt horrible for Ramirez, whom Daly and Brandman left in a “no-win situation.”

While Ramirez was critical of Daly, she also defended his decisions and her own approvals of payments for Brandman.

Nguyen did not.

Referring to Brandman’s consulting report, Nguyen said he “would have done that in-house."

Nelson told reporters he would push to have Nguyen pay for his employee share of pension payments, even though the office is an independently elected post.

Moorlach said he had received a county counsel opinion that questioned whether conditioning an appointment on salary terms was possible.

Yet given the political nature of the appointment, Nelson said, he would seek to impose those terms.

Nguyen said he would have no problem paying a portion of his pension, calling it "the right thing" for elected officials to do because "it’s a county family."

Spitzer said having elected officials pay for pensions was important to the Board of Supervisors because “we’re all trying to lead by example.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Nguyen owns a Lee’s Sandwiches franchise. Nguyen said members of his extended family own the franchise and he helps out with the business.

Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosanana.

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

April 5

2008

Ten years ago, the typical County employee paid their portion of the pension contribution and the County paid its portion. In August of 2004, that changed when a retroactive pension benefit was granted for non-safety employees. In order to garner a Board majority for this benefit, the bargaining units agreed to a few things. They agreed to no raises for a period of time, they accepted a decrease in medical insurance coverage, and they began withholdings to pay for the unfunded actuarial accrued liability that was instantly created. This last component is now known as “reverse pickup” and every non-safety employee incurs this additional withholding. After a few years, I wanted to know if the “reverse pickup” was doing what was anticipated. Peggy Lowe of the OC Register provided the answer in “Audit: Workers fund own pensions – Deputies union should follow OCEA’s lead, Moorlach says.” Fortunately, the audit confirmed that the withholding was adequate, which was great news, and certainly not a blow. Had the report concluded that the withholdings were inadequate, then that would have been a blow.

Members of the county’s largest public workers union are paying for their own pension increases, a county internal audit released Friday found.

In a blow to those critical of public worker pensions, the audit reports that the 13,500 Orange County Employee Association members “fully and accurately paid for the cost of the pensions enhancements” made in 2004.

“This should silence the army of critics and political opportunists that have been misleading the public for the past four years,” said Nick Berardino, OCEA general manager.

The Internal Audit Department did the review at the request of the Board of Supervisors, as several supervisors are critical of what they say are overly-generous benefits to public workers.

Changes to the pension formula made in 2004 were praised by supervisors at the time because they said any increases in costs for the retroactive portion would be covered by workers.

Supervisor John Moorlach, the most vocal critic of public pensions, said the audit was “good news.”

“With so many other holes in the dike here at the county, I just wanted to make sure we didn’t have another one,” he said.

Moorlach said he didn’t try to cut the workers’ pension benefits recently because OCEA has “a revenue source.” Moorlach is leading the board’s effort to sue the county’s other large public workers union, the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, seeking to cut a retroactive pension increase that union received in 2002.

Leaders with the deputies union were offered a chance to adopt the same system used by OCEA before the board launched its lawsuit that seeks to cut their pensions, but they refused, Moorlach said. The case, on which the county has spent nearly $565,000 so far, is pending in the courts.

Mark Nichols, general manager for the deputies union, said the county’s offer made it less competitive with what other public safety agencies offer their employees.

“The manner in which it was proposed in the totality of the package was not competitive within the market and was not something the members would agree to,” Nichols said.

The audit, which covered 2005 through 2008, found that employees covered enhancements of some $80 million, including additional employee contributions of $46.4 million and health insurance cost savings of $33.6 million.

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