The Orange County Board of Supervisors can’t keep paying Public Administrator/Guardian John Williams his full pay while stripping him of his guardian duties, so says Shirley Grindle, Orange County’s most prominent citizen watchdog.
Doing so would be an illegal gift of public funds, said Grindle, who wrote the county’s campaign finance ordinance.
Earlier this week, county supervisors unanimously agreed without debate to strip Williams of his public guardian duties and appoint an executive manager to perform all the duties dealing with probate matters.
“They keep paying him for doing nothing,” Grindle remarked. “Boy I’d like to have that job.”
The supervisors’ action comes as tense negotiations are taking place behind closed doors between supervisors and Williams’ attorney, Phil Greer.
After hearing a private attorney’s report that Williams was creating liability on his handling of large probate matters last month, supervisors essentially concluded that Williams should be moved out of his post.
The post of public administrator (elected) and public guardian (appointed) were combined back in 2006 with the urging of Supervisor John Moorlach. He later became Williams’ biggest critic and moved to undue the combination of the two offices — and salaries — back in 2009 after two grand jury reports heavily criticized Williams.
Moorlach lost that vote on a 3-2 margin. Supervisors Chairman Bill Campbell voted with Moorlach while supervisors Pat Bates, Janet Nguyen and Chris Norby voted to support Williams.
All calls on the Williams matter are being referred to Campbell.
He said Grindle is wrong.
Campbell confirmed that county attorneys have told supervisors behind closed doors that because they allowed Williams to run in 2010 for re-election, they can’t cut his pay.
“This has come up on a number of issues, once somebody is selected at a certain compensation level, supervisors don’t have the ability to reduce it,” Campbell said.
Grindle says that contention is wrong, and said as much in a letter she faxed to supervisors’ offices Wednesday:
It is clear that the Board of Supervisors is on record acknowledging they have the legal right to terminate John William’s role as Public Guardian, but not as Public Administrator (as an elected official only to that office, he must either resign or be recalled). By so doing, the practical result is that an unlawful gift of public funds is avoided by not paying John Williams the Public Guardian pro rata share of his salary and benefits for performing duties the Board has officially relieved him of.”
Grindle said if supervisors refuse to take action, she would likely refer the matter to the State Attorney General.
She said she would refuse to refer anything to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, whose fiancé – Peggi Buff – is Williams’ second-in-command.
Ironically, that’s what Campbell said the supervisors just appointed: A second in command. “What we’re trying to do is put a strong number two to run both offices,” Campbell said.
Grindle said her reluctance to refer anything to Rackauckas isn’t related to Buff’s status.
“I don’t’ trust this District Attorney to do the right thing under any conditions. He’s proven time and again that he definitely is not going to cause any embarrassment to any Republican officials,” she said.
— NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.