Orange County’s Public Administrator Won’t Leave

Last March, Orange County's besieged public administrator, John Williams, avoided political execution by agreeing with the Board of Supervisors to retire on Monday.

But despite that agreement — and an order to change the locks on his office door — Williams showed up for work anyway.

On Tuesday, he was officially told not to come back.

"The Board of Supervisors accepted your resignation as Public Administrator of Orange County effective January 23, 2012, upon receipt of your letter of March 9, 2011," wrote County Counsel Nicholas Chrisos in a letter to Williams.

Williams' attorney and spokesman, Phil Greer, couldn't be reached for comment.

Williams has been a controversial figure in county government since 2009 when two scathing grand jury reports criticized his management of the offices of public administrator and public guardian, which oversee the complex estates of people who die without heirs and those of indigent people.

The spotlight on Williams became intense in late 2010 when high-ranking Assistant District Attorney Todd Spitzer was fired by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas after investigating allegations that Williams was mishandling a case involving a domestic violence victim.

The controversy was fueled by the fact that Rackauckas' fiancee, Peggy Buff, was Williams' second-in-command.

The Spitzer affair also drew a heightened focus on how Williams ran his office. An investigation determined that the county faced potential legal liability over mismanaged estates.

In the wake of the investigation, Buff was quietly moved into a county job with a six-figure salary despite a hiring freeze because of her relationship with Rackauckas.

Meanwhile, county supervisors like John Moorlach, who were one-time political mentors to Williams as a fellow Republican, quickly turned on him. They stripped him of his public guardian role and appointed an executive manager to manage operations of public administrator.

It was the third crisis between county supervisors and a countywide elected official in recent years.

In 2008, supervisors had to devise a way to force then-Sheriff Mike Carona to step down. By 2009, they decided to oust then-Treasurer-Tax Collector Chriss Street. And by 2010, Williams was under pressure to leave.

County supervisors have no authority to remove an independently elected officeholder like Williams. Despite a federal indictment of Carona or bankruptcy-related lawsuits against Street and Williams, these elected officials can't be forced to resign. They can only be recalled.

Williams resisted the pressure to step down until March, when his attorney, Phil Greer, was able to broker a resignation.

Under the terms of that deal, as described in Chrisos' Jan. 24 letter, Williams remained in office with his full salary of $153,206, even though all his official duties were handled by others appointed by county officials.

For example, Lucille Lyon was appointed public guardian in July.

Supervisors also placed an initiative on the June ballot that would restore the public adminstrator as an appointed position.

On Tuesday, Moorlach said Williams, whom he once supported, had become a poster child for the campaign to restore an appointed public administrator.

Yet Chrisos' letter also noted that county supervisors had agreed to keep a lid on Williams' mismanagement of his agency by not making public the results of their investigation.

They even authorized CEO Tom Mauk to retain Williams as a private consultant during the transition, according to Chrisos' letter.

Yesterday, supervisors apparently ran out of patience.

"The Board has fulfilled its portion of the obligation," Chrisos wrote. "Therefore, the purported oral notice to the CEO and to me via your counsel that you desire to rescind your nine-month old resignation, is not effective.

"Your final salary check and any leave payout will be mailed to you at your address on file. The CEO will separately determine the need to retain your services as a consultant."

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

 

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