Orange County’s trash agency continues to solidify its reputation as the recycling bin of county politics with another quiet transfer of a top supervisor’s aide despite a much-heralded “hard” countywide hiring freeze and layoffs.
Matthew Harper, a top aide to Supervisor Janet Nguyen, was quietly transferred this month from Nguyen’s office to OC Waste & Recycling as a public affairs manager. The move raised a few eyebrows in the supervisors’ fifth-floor offices in the county Hall of Administration.
Harper recently announced he’s running for the newly created 72nd Assembly District, touting himself as a fiscal conservative.
Yet when called to explain why it makes fiscal sense to move him from Supervisor Nguyen’s office to the trash agency because he’s running for office, Harper asked to return the call. He never did, despite repeated attempts late Friday to reach him again.
County CEO Tom Mauk defended Harper’s transfer despite the budget-cutting environment.
“We move people from position to position, including EAs [executive assistants, who are political hires as opposed to civil servants], as a normal course of business,” Mauk said. “And we think putting Matt at OC Waste & Recycling is a solid match, and the position needed to be filled.”
While Mauk confirmed there is a “hard” hiring freeze in effect because of the county’s budget cuts, he said the county’s bureaucracy still has turnover. “We’re filling positions every day,” Mauk said. “We’re doing that across the county on a select basis. Some positions need to be filled.”
Harper isn’t the first top assistant from a supervisor’s office to be moved to a lucrative slot at the waste and recycling agency between political gigs.
Denis Bilodeau, chief of staff to Supervisor Shawn Nelson, was briefly transferred to OC Waste & Recycling after his former boss, Supervisor Chris Norby, won a special election to the Assembly. And Chip Monaco, former chief of staff to Supervisor Pat Bates, also recently moved from the fifth floor to the trash agency despite the hiring freeze.
While Mauk acknowledged Harper’s move has triggered similar questions, he denies politics played a part in the transfer.
“It may be receiving more focus because he’s running for Assembly, but that’s not part of my consideration,” Mauk said.
We’ll update our post if Harper calls back to give us his take on his job transfer.
— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.