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.