Supervisors Poised to Hire New CEO

Mike Giancola

The Orange County Board of Supervisors seems poised to hire the head of  county's trash department as its next CEO.

On May 7, the board will consider a contract for Michael Giancola, who now heads county Waste & Recycling, according to The Orange County Register. The contract, according to the Register, is a three-year deal that includes an annual salary of about $245,000.

Giancola, a 34-year veteran, rose through the ranks at Waste & Recycling from an entry-level job.

Board Chairman Shawn Nelson told the Register that Giancola’s hiring would be a "morale booster" for employees and  "shows a start at the bottom can pay off."

Giancola was definitely closer to the bottom than the top of the supervisors' list when they set out to replace Tom Mauk, who resigned as CEO last year amid the scandal that engulfed the county after former Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante was charged with sex crimes.

He is the third candidate to come near a formal job offer in recent months.

Earlier this year, Jay Goldstone, chief operating officer for San Diego, filed for retirement and spoiled his own recruitment because Orange county supervisors did not want a top executive who was already drawing a pension, referred to derisively in OC political circles as a “double dipper.”

Santa Barbara County CEO Chandra Wallar came close to accepting an offer from Orange County supervisors last month but would not accept an offered salary of $252,000. Supervisors wanted Wallar to pay for her own pension without being compensated in additional salary, which would have amounted to a pay cut.

Wallar removed herself from consideration, sending supervisors a scathing letter criticizing their public debate over salary after, she alleged, they had already made her an offer in secret.

Santa Barbara County supervisors later announced they would not be renewing Wallar’s three-year contract when it expired in October.

After their struggles to hire someone from outside, supervisors acknowledged they would look inward among their own executive ranks.

According to several sources familiar with the process, many top-level department managers were reluctant to take the CEO job, aware that a majority of supervisors are gearing up for election campaigns for other offices and that relationships among board members are strained.

Human Resources Director Steve Danley, who is close friends with Giancola, was one of the top finalists for the CEO job but reportedly faced stiff opposition from Supervisor Janet Nguyen.

Several other top county executives were at different points considered for the job.

Steve Franks, former executive aide to former Supervisor Jim Silva and who now runs the Community Resources Agency, was considered a front-runner because his agency has one of the largest portfolios including the county park and library system.

Steve Eldred — an attorney who heads Child Support Services and has a strong background with the California Endowment regarding public policy initiatives for healthy communities — also was considered at one point.

As a department head, Giancola is best known in recent years for the the failed “green building” project at Waste & Recycling. Project contracts were terminated because a facility being built to be environmentally friendly lagged behind schedule and encountered large cost overruns.

In addition, Giancola was accused by the husband of a landfill employee of running a salvaging operation at the landfill. That allegation, among others, was recently unearthed due to a lawsuit filed against the county by a former human resources manager, Kathy Tahilramani, who worked for Giancola.

The allegations were reportedly referred to a private law firm hired by the county to investigate claims against top managers. Nelson told the Orange County Register that the law firm investigation had cleared Giancola.

In her lawsuit, which has not been settled, Tahilramani said Giancola twisted selection rules to advance favorite employees.

In one Nov. 17, 2010, memo, Tahilramani wrote:

As the HR Manager, I began to become quite concerned in 2009 about Mike Giancola’s frequently inappropriate and derogatory comments about individual staff in terms of their age, potential retirement plans, performance, who was dating who, health and who to hire that I became very consistent in warning him about the consequences of violating the County EEO policy as well as the Merit and Selection rules. Mike Giancola told me that his wife Lori Giancola (HR HCA Recruitment Manager) had given him the same warnings. But he is, “Italian and does what he wants.” He told me he has “co-opted the CEO (Thomas Mauk) and that Alisa Drakodaidis depends on him and as such he gets what he wants. I continued to warn him on a daily basis and he simply ignored my efforts.

Tahilramani asserted in court documents that after referring the salvaging issue to central Human Resources in late 2010, she was essentially frozen out by Giancola and eventually demoted by Giancola to a safety specialist position.

County officials have declined to comment on the specifics of Tahilramani’s allegations, citing ongoing litigation.

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

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