Thursday May Be CEO’s Last Day

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Thursday may be Tom Mauk’s last day as Orange County CEO.

County supervisors have called a special closed session Thursday morning to discuss the ongoing quiet negotiations over Mauk’s exit.

Mauk isn’t expected to leave that meeting as CEO.

Thursday’s closed session is a continuation of a series of tense, private talks that were triggered the day that District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced 12 felony sex crime charges against Carlos Bustamante, a former top executive in county Public Works and a Santa Ana city councilman.

The charges, as well as Rackauckas’ ongoing investigation into how top officials handled complaints about Bustamante, have crippled the upper echelons of county government.

Public Works Director Jess Carbajal has been fired with cause. The deputy CEO who oversaw Public Works, Alisa Drakodaidis, has put herself on a stress leave over the issue and is expected to file legal action against the county.

Supervisors John Moorlach and Shawn Nelson have expressed frustration with Mauk’s leadership and handling of the Bustamante investigations.

Given the seriousness of the criminal charges brought by Rackauckas, there are nagging questions about why Mauk let Bustamante resign quietly last October and granted him 90-day severance in pay after a private law firm raised troubling issues about his conduct.

There are also questions about why there was no referral to the DA until March, when an internal audit report into a separate allegation resurrected the Bustamante affair.

Supervisors Bill Campbell and Janet Nguyen have reportedly argued aggressively in favor of Mauk during closed sessions.

Campbell has publicly stood firmly behind Mauk, arguing that he handled the Bustamante matter appropriately because the complaints of female victims were not as pronounced in the internal investigation as they were in the DA’s. In addition, it was the internal probe ordered by Mauk that ultimately led to the DA’s action, Campbell argued.

Nguyen has kept quiet publicly. For the moment, Supervisor Pat Bates seems to hold the key to Mauk’s future, but she also has said nothing publicly about the issue.

One key problem for county supervisors, according to sources, is Mauk’s severance package, which virtually guarantees him a full year’s salary and benefits estimated at over $250,000.

Yet from the tone on the notice for Thursday’s meeting implies that the amicable tenor of the negotiations have soured.

At Tuesday’s weekly supervisors meeting, the notice for closed session simply read, “Public Employee Performance Evaluation” for the CEO.

That session was a continuation of another special closed session called earlier in the month that had a much more aggressive title: “Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release” for the CEO as well as provisions for appointment of an interim CEO.

The language regarding the CEO’s “Discipline/Dismissal/Release” is back on the agenda for Thursday as well as an item announcing a possible interim CEO appointment.

— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.

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