Nelson Likely to Stay as Chairman of County Supervisors

OC Supervisors - Close Up (p)

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson (right) speaks with fellow supervisors at a regular meeting. (Nick Gerda / Voice of OC)

Indications are that the Orange County Board of Supervisors is set to break tradition and elect Shawn Nelson as chairman for another year.

Supervisor Pat Bates was in line to take the reins, with Supervisor Janet Nguyen scheduled to take over as vice chairwoman. But with both Bates and Nguyen running for state Senate seats and the so-called Super Bowl of labor negotiations running into overtime, continuity appears to be the order of the day.

Bates on Monday confirmed that she would not be nominating herself for the chairmanship if the board, as scheduled, takes up the vote at Tuesday's regular meeting,

“I think that if possible, we’ll keep the status quo, being that we are involved in a lot of issues, given that continuity is important,”  Bates said. “It’s driven more in my mind by the continuity. We are in negotiations. We have reached impasse.”

Nelson didn’t return a call seeking comment, nor did Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Nguyen as vice chair.

The chairmanship is just one of several board appointments scheduled to take place tomorrow, and it's certainly not the only one assured to attract attention.

Many eyes will be on how supervisors handle Nguyen’s reappointment to the board of CalOptima, the managed health care plan serving nearly half a million poor and elderly clients.

Nguyen spearheaded a hotly debated reshuffling of the CalOptima board of directors and the agency's top executives after being appointed as the supervisors' representative to the panel in 2011.

The ongoing controversy deepened last week when federal officials released a scathing audit of a key CalOptima program that claims the agency has put the health and safety of 16,000 seniors at risk.

Bates said the troubling questions raised by the audit should not be taken as a reflection of Nguyen’s efforts but as a management issue.

“The issues regarding Janet on that board are totally political,” Bates said. “How do you get this troubling audit when less than six months ago, CalOptima was being lauded?”

County supervisors also have taken issue with an investigation into CalOptima launched by the state’s political watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission, which followed a local grand jury report titled “CalOptima burns while supervisors fiddle.”

The grand jury was critical of the nexis between Nguyen’s fundraising in the medical community and her ultimately successful push to reshape the board to include more medical industry representatives. Critics have also said Nguyen's power play led to the resignation of more than a dozen top executives and managers.

Two years ago, Nguyen argued for a two-year term to the panel and hardwired board representation into her district by stipulating in a new ordinance that the supervisor with the most users would sit on CalOptima.

That issue never sat well with Supervisors Nelson and Moorlach, who argued at the time that the appointment should remain at the discretion of the board chair.

Moorlach, who recently voted against the county's response to the grand jury CalOptima report, said Monday that his position hasn’t changed despite recent news.

“I opposed the audacity of it being something other than the annual chair’s appointment. Shawn Nelson and I were in the minority,” Moorlach said.

Asked whether Nguyen should stay on now that her two-year term is up, Moorlach simply responded by saying, “That would be an issue that needs to be reviewed by the chair, whoever that person will be.”

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