An Orange County union leader is calling for a vote on County CEO Mike Giancola, after county supervisors gave him a controversial cash raise last week, his second pay hike in a year and a half.

After having been handed tight salary and benefit packages in recent years, labor leaders were furious over the timing of the raise for the CEO.

The raise also came directly on the heels of supervisors voting to appeal a judge’s decision that they negotiated in bad faith with public sector attorneys over salaries.

Yet supervisors’ praise of Giancola seems to have particularly prompted demands for a publicly-monitored vote on the CEO — because  supervisors highlighted Giancola’s support among the rank and file.

“You’re open, you’re transparent, you’re honest. You have the respect of your troops,” County Supervisor Todd Spitzer told Giancola publicly from the dais.

Labor says he most clearly does not have the support of his troops. And Orange County Employees Association head Nick Berardino wants a chance to prove it.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Berardino declared late last week after supervisors approved the raise on a 3-0 vote with Supervisor Janet Nguyen abstaining for unspecified reasons.

“At the Board of Supervisors meeting the representative for the county’s managers publicly spoke about the managers’ lack of regard for him,” wrote Berardino on Oct. 30 in an email sent to county supervisors, HR staff and media outlets including the Orange County Register and Voice of OC.

Berardino added that rancor against Giancola “is even more pronounced among rank and file employees.”

As such, Berardino issued the following challenge to supervisors:

The County and OCEA jointly conduct a secret ballot “election” to determine if in fact the CEO has the support of employees and managers. OCEA will solicit donations from other groups to offset the costs of the election, which would be conducted by the Registrar of Voters or the State Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Supervisor John Moorlach shot back at Berardino and defended Giancola’s raise.

“It’s just Nick,” Moorlach said. “He wants to create drama. It’s part of the Nick show…that’s what Nick does.”

Moorlach defended the multiple raises handed to Giancola saying, “we hired Mike at a whole lot less than we brought (former CEO Tom) Mauk in at,” Moorlach said.

Indeed, supervisors got Giancola – who was under multiple HR investigations as head of OC Waste & Recycling – on the cheap last year after Mauk retired amidst controversy in the wake of felony sex crime charges against Carlos Bustamante, a top county executive and Republican Santa Ana councilman.

“I believe Mike has jumped in with some tough stuff and there’s still lots of tough stuff,” Moorlach said.

Like Spitzer, who was effusive with public praise for Giancola at the supervisors’ weekly public meeting, Moorlach rated Giancola high for keeping up board relations saying he had “good interaction and exchanges.”

“I see someone who is working hard and dealing with hard issues,” Moorlach said.

“It’s hard when you’re number 58 out of 58 counties,” Moorlach said criticizing the flawed funding formulas that often leave Orange County at the bottom of allocations for government services.

County supervisors like Moorlach are particularly peeved at union officials because they were unable to help get back more than $73 million in tax revenues captured by Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget staff in 2010, after supervisors left the money unprotected by legislative authorization when they refinanced the bankruptcy debt in 2007.

“We are hemmed in by a governor who is supposed to be Nick’s buddy,” Moorlach said.

The CEO’s raise is also re-igniting simmering tension on the part of labor leaders who continue to focus on county supervisors’ public spending largesse on behalf of county contractors who contribute to their campaigns.

Calls have intensified for an ethics commission since a county grand jury suggested one last year.

“In politics, you got to keep the bag man happy,” Berardino said last week after supervisors granted Giancola’s raise, noting that Giancola’s main attribute as CEO has been to exclusively cater to the board of supervisors’ pet projects and political interests.

“He hasn’t accomplished anything,” Berardino said. “This is a pay-off to Giancola for ensuring that the board’s political contributors get contracts.”

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