Sometimes a public official behaves so poorly that you just want to cringe.
It’s even worse if it is someone you know and have supported in the past. Then you are not only embarrassed for them, but you are embarrassed for yourself.
This has become the situation with Orange County’s elected public administrator, John Williams.
Williams for some time has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny and negative press for how he has run his office.
Last year, rumors that he was going to be impeached from his office for gross misconduct were quickly followed by the word that some deal had been struck behind closed doors.
Williams would continue to serve in his office until sometime this month (which would have some sort of material pension benefit for him), and in return he would turn over the actual running of the office of the public administrator to others designated by the County’s chief executive, Tom Mauk.
At the time that I heard this, I reached out to Williams through his attorney, Phil Greer, to protest this arrangement.
In my mind, either Williams felt he had been negligent in his job or worse and thus should resign his office, or Williams’ felt that he had done nothing wrong, in which case he should continue to do his job and let the county supervisors and others “take their best shot” at making the case for his removal.
The in-between course — where Williams somehow cut a deal, implying guilt but still allowing him to suck off the taxpayer tit while not really doing the job to which he was elected — was an outrageous course which was a lose-lose for everyone.
At the time this deal was consummated, it cemented in my mind that the John Williams I had come to know over the years had, at best, lost his perspective or even worse, had become a scoundrel.
Revelations this week that Williams had in fact signed a letter in which he stated his intention to resign his office this month but is now trying to “flip flop” on that decision are another demonstration that Williams is lacking in character.
I have spoken to enough people who were party to the dialogue that took place among Williams, the Board of Supervisors and the County CEO to know that (despite my strong advice to the contrary) Williams did cut a deal. The county has literally locked Williams out of his former office, and a judge has now refused a request to have him let back in.
While clearly Williams and those of us who had been political backers of him over the years are “losers” in this process — as are the supervisors who misjudged Williams as someone with whom they could make a deal — it is the taxpayers of the County of Orange who are the biggest losers of all.
This entire situation comes at considerable taxpayer expense — in the time spent on it by county personnel and lawyers, the costs of Williams’ screw-ups in the running of his office, and finally the idea that Williams for the rest of his life will get enhanced pension benefits at our expense because of the way this has gone. It’s totally outrageous.
At this point, several things need to happen.
Ideally, John Williams should just go away and never come back.
If he was an honorable man, he would voluntarily turn down any additional pension benefits that he may be legally entitled to because of the outrageous way this played out.
The Board of Supervisors should immediately meet and take the extraordinary step of issuing a public reprimand of Williams along with a press conference vetting all of the information they have about Williams’ conduct as well as the deal that was struck (from which Williams’ is now trying to extricate himself).
Finally the Board of Supervisors should immediately appoint a credible, new public administrator to replace Williams.
The Board of Supervisors has placed on the ballot a measure to try and eliminate the public administrator as an elected countywide office, which will face long odds as voters typically do not like to give up their ability to elect people to office.
Such a measure may pass in June, but Supervisors must proceed under the assumption that the elected post remains.
For now, it’s hard for me to decide whether to be angry with Williams or just pity him. The one thing I do know is that I am embarrassed for all of us here in the County of Orange.
Voice of OC Community Editorial Board Member Jon Fleischman is publisher of the state’s leading conservative daily, The Flash Report.