Supervisor Shawn Nelson at a county supervisors' meeting.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors took an unusual step Tuesday by voting to keep Shawn Nelson as chairman and Pat Bates as vice chairwoman for another year.

The 3-2 vote was a rare divided tally for board leadership positions, a result not seen since the airport wars of the 1990s.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer now may hold a record for the longest time on the Board of Supervisors without being voted chairman or vice chairman.

Spitzer was largely blocked from any leadership slot during his last tenure on the panel in the late 1990s during Orange County’s airport wars because of his representation of South County cities that fought a commercial airport at El Toro.

Tuesday’s vote also made it clear that Supervisor Janet Nguyen — who is running for one the state’s top elections this year in the 34th State Senate District — was unable to garner the votes needed from her Republican colleagues on the panel to become vice chairwoman as she publicly ceded her turn at the office to Bates.

Usually in election years, those who are vying for higher office will jockey to have leadership titles next to their names as they go before voters.

While largely ceremonial, chairmanship of the Board of Supervisors also features an important function in that it’s the central coordination point for the CEO’s office with the board. The vice chairmanship allows for better coordination and usually assumes chairmanship the next year.

Spitzer nominated Bates for chairwoman Tuesday, adding that her experience and temperament made her an ideal fit given the challenges coming this year.

Spitzer has made a point of wanting to dial down the intensity of labor negotiations under Nelson’s leadership. He urged Supervisor Pat Bates to step up to turn around the increasingly toxic negotiations.

“Your ability to come in and calm things down. I’ve watched you for 10 years. You have a phenomenal skill set, especially at this time,” Spitzer said to Bates. “I think you need to step up and take the chairmanship.”

Bates, as reported by Voice of OC, demurred, saying that Nelson’s leadership on a series of labor negotiations should continue into 2014.

Bates, who is expected to seek a state Senate seat later this year, told her colleagues that she valued “continuity and stability, given that we are in this unique year.”

Termed the “Super Bowl of Labor Talks,” Orange County supervisors are in the unique situation of negotiating will all major labor unions working with the county.

And this is a Board of Supervisors in transition.

“It is a unique time. Two of us for sure are termed out,” said Bates about her and Supervisor John Moorlach’s terms. “Perhaps another officer will leave for higher office,” added Bates, referring to Nguyen.

Moorlach argued that it was important that a vice chair be there next year to ensure a smooth transition.

Spitzer called the vice chair position “the bride in waiting,” arguing that supervisors should use a system “where the vice chair is there to learn the ropes to be the presumptive chair the next year.”

“It’s unfair to this board … to have status quo,” argued Spitzer.

Yet that’s exactly what they did.

Toward the end of their deliberations, Nelson promised Spitzer his day would come. Next year.

“You are going to be the chair next year,” Nelson said to Spitzer. “You do have support. This is going to be a vacant job next year. I would like to see you move to center court.”

“You’re in the on-deck circle,” Nelson told Spitzer. “It’s just a different way of being there.”

Supervisors are expected to take up consideration of their regional appointments at their Feb. 25 meeting.

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