Rick Francis, chief of staff to county Supervisor John Moorlach, is leaving the fifth floor at the county Hall of Administration to be assistant to CEO Tom Hatch in Costa Mesa.
While neither side has made a formal announcement of the transition, both Moorlach and Francis confirmed the pending departure Wednesday. Moorlach said Francis' move is typical of the last two years of a county supervisor's second and final term.
"Everyone will be looking for jobs before I complete my term in 2014, unless term limits change," Moorlach said, possibly hinting at a ballot challenge to the current two-term limit for county supervisors.
Moorlach said it was frustrating to see the 49-year-old Francis — who was at one point Moorlach's pastor — leave after having spent the last five years working together.
"Costa Mesa isn't the only entity that has tried to recruit Rick away. He's an outstanding, well-qualified, competent manager, and he has exemplified good management and leadership skills," Moorlach said.
Moorlach noted that a year and a half ago, Francis applied to be the county's probation chief and came in a close second.
When Moorlach's original chief of staff — the mercurial law professor Mario Mainero — abruptly left the position in 2009, Francis took over the helm. While Francis was much more low-key than Mainero, he was generally seen as a stabilizing influence within the 2nd District office.
"I love to get things done but out of the limelight. I don't seek a lot of attention. I prefer to work behind the scenes," he said.
Francis said he's most proud of the work he did to smooth relations between Moorlach and the Sheriff's Department.
Moorlach came into office in 2006 after a brutal campaign over pensions in which the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs spent large sums to defeat him.
After the jail murder of John Derek Chamberlain in late 2006, relations between Moorlach and the department increasingly soured. Mooralch — who subsequently pushed for the establishment of the Office of Independent Review at the Sheriff's Department — was also among the first to call on former Sheriff Mike Carona to step down after his federal indictment in 2007.
Francis said he's proud that he was able to help both sides bridge their differences.
He helped Moorlach "to see that the guys wearing green weren't this evil group of vipers. I was effective in helping him see a different side of that organization. Today we probably have the best relationship with the Sheriff's Department," Francis said.
Indeed, Moorlach went on to become one of Sheriff Sandra Hutchens' staunchest supporters, especially helping her during her spat with the National Rifle Association over her tightening of Orange County's concealed weapons policy just after her appointment in 2008. Hutchens won election in 2010.
Francis said that as Costa Mesa's assistant CEO, he hopes to help bridge the differences that divide the city's workers and City Council majority, which have made national headlines. "Some people, when there's a fire they run away. Some people, we run toward it to see if we can help," Francis said.
He sees himself bringing a "sense of balance and fairness" to the transformation at Costa Mesa City Hall.
"The current council has clear objectives … and there are ways to approach it in a way that is thoughtful and considerate of the people that are impacted but also having a firm grasp of the fiscal situation the city is in," he said.
Francis said he specifically sees himself helping with the strategic planning needed to implement the City Council majority's vision of outsourcing in the city.
While council members are eager to move quickly, Francis sees his role as helping to implement a "thoughtful process" for the transformation that "is not overly taxing on staff."
Moorlach said he is finalizing appointment of a replacement chief of staff. Francis moves on Jan. 1.
Francis said the entire process is a new one after so many years at the county.
"It's excitement and sheer terror at the same time," he said. "The county has been my family for a number of years. Leaving that security isn't an easy thing to do."
But, Francis added, "I'm excited and eager to take on a new challenge."