The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously appointed Mike Giancola, head of the county’s trash department, to take over the reins of a county government that has been in interim hands since last year.

Supervisors chose Giancola, who worked his way up through the ranks of county Waste & Recycling after a nationwide recruitment produced two finalists — San Diego City Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone and Santa Barbara County CEO Chandra Wallar. Both candidates were eliminated because of executive pension issues.

County Chief Financial Officer Bob Franz had assumed responsibilities as the county’s top bureaucrat following the resignation last July of former CEO Tom Mauk, who was forced out after District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged Carlos Bustamante, an OC Public Works executive and Santa Ana city councilman, with a host of sex crimes he allegedly committed against county workers.

The 54-year-old Giancola himself was recently cleared in an internal investigation by a private investigations firm looking into allegations of private salvaging at the county landfill, which were connected to a lawsuit brought by a former human resources manager.

Supervisors rallied around Giancola after reading a 127-page report on the issue over the weekend. All five supervisors said the allegations were unfounded and a product of numerous anonymous complaints last year against top executives.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said the appointment of Giancola showed “the ability to raise to the highest level in our county after somebody made these allegations and get through it,” Spitzer said.

“He had the confidence to look at us and say it’s better to hire somebody you know,” Spitzer said, noting some of the frustrations of supervisors, with most members looking to run for higher office and a CEO’s office full of interim appointments.

Giancola’s annual salary will go from $170,000 to $245,000. He has agreed to pay his full employee share for his pension as well as the “reverse pickup” costs of a retroactive pension enhancement approved by supervisors in 2004 — issues that were apparently sticking points in county’s negotiations with Wallar.

Giancola’s salary will be just under Mauk’s salary, which was $253,000, and makes Giancola one of the lowest-paid county top executives in the region.

The promotion “shows that the county is an awesome place to work,” said Giancola after the vote. He said the ascent of a laborer who rose to head his department and acquire an online degree from the University of Phoenix demonstrates one thing clearly to him: “You can move up.”

The San Clemente resident started at the county parks department in 1979. After a brief stint in the Navy, he returned to the county in 1985 as a groundskeeper, then transferred to the trash department as a laborer. Within three years, he entered the management ranks, and 20 years later he would headed the department.

Responding to reporters’ questions, Giancola noted that heading the landfills had helped him greatly in terms of understanding how county agencies can connect with the cities, industries and people across Orange County.

The main attribute of a landfill is to be invisible, Giancola said, with the county taking 3 million tons of trash each year and quietly stowing it away in areas that resemble a park.

Supervisor Pat Bates, who is close to Giancola, called him “a stand-up guy who accepts we have done some great things but need to do work.”

 “We’ll be a better family” with Giancola’s appointment, allowing management to “focus inward,” Bates said.

Board Chairman Shawn Nelson said Giancola’s challenge is clear: rebuilding the executive ranks at the county that have been decimated by poor morale, resignations, retirements and a generational shift that places many top-tier executives close to retirement.

“He needs to build a bench,” Nelson said, “especially in the CEO’s office.”

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