It turns out that John Williams is after all an honorable man.
That’s the line Orange County Supervisor Bill Campbell stuck to last month when Public Administrator John Williams seemed to waffle on his promise to supervisors that he would retire on Jan. 23.
After a private meeting with Campbell and Supervisor Shawn Nelson, Williams officially notified the Board of Supervisors that he was dropping a lawsuit he had filed in an attempt to keep his job.
“See, I told you,” Campbell said to a reporter. “I’m pleased John has decided to honor the agreement we made last March.”
Williams had been in the headlines since 2009, when a pair of grand jury reports harshly criticized the management of his office. Then in 2010 he became a key figure in the controversial firing of former Assistant District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who had been investigating allegations that Williams, in his role as public guardian, had inappropriately moved to take over an elderly woman’s estate.
County supervisors eventually hired a private attorney to investigate Williams’ office, and another troubling report was produced, this one kept confidential. After that report, Williams announced his retirement.
Because Williams was a separately elected official, county supervisors were in a difficult spot, just as they had been in 2008 when Sheriff Mike Carona was under indictment for corruption charges and in 2009 after Treasurer-Tax Collector Chriss Street was accused of fraud in his role as a trustee of a bankrupt trucking firm.
County supervisors were under the impression that they couldn’t remove Williams and that voters might have had to pay both Williams until 2014, when his term would expire, ande professional staff to manage probate matters.
That’s why the deal they crafted in March was a generous one.
It allowed Williams to stay in office for most of the year with his full salary and pension credit while doing only a minimum of work. It also held out the promise of consulting pay during the transition.
Williams apparently had second thoughts after the furor of early last year died down. Last month he told supervisors through his lawyer that he had changed his mind.
Supervisors went through the roof, preparing to go as far as an election to recall Williams. There is already a June ballot initiative restoring public administrator to an appointed position.
There were even rumors that supervisors were considering an amendment to the county charter that would allow them to remove independently elected officials with cause.
When Williams lost a court challenge last month seeking to be allowed back into his office after county officials locked him out, it opened the opportunity for private negotiations with both Campbell and Nelson.
Those talks quickly produced results.
“It was resolved,” said Williams’ attorney Phil Greer. “We met with the county, and everybody behaved in a very honorable manner to do what was best for the county.”
“It shows why Bill and Shawn are leaders,” Greer said. “They put aside personal feelings and did what was right.”
While Greer said he wouldn’t release any terms of the deal, he confirmed that Williams would resign and move forward with processing his retirement papers. Williams was at work today clearing out his desk, Greer said.
“He 100 percent got the exact terms and not one more thing than the agreement he got last year,” Nelson said.
Nelson summarized the private talks between the two sides by noting “clearly upon further reflection John realized he made a deal and the right thing was to live with the deal.”
— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.