Orange County supervisors created four new, high-paying jobs Tuesday, expanding the ranks of political aides at the county by creating new slots for the auditor-controller and assessor.
Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer joined Supervisors Andrew Do and Michelle Steele in expanding the slots. Supervisors Shawn Nelson and Lisa Bartlett voted against the plan.
The expansion in the ranks of political aides came after newly-elected Auditor Controller Eric Woolery requested the reclassification of an executive slot to a political aide after being sworn in this January.
Then-supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson balked, saying Woolery’s job doesn’t require political aides. Only county supervisors should get those kinds of aides, Nelson reasoned.
Nelson warns that many of those political aides often get into trouble because of the odd nature of their job classification.
“It usually ends in a fireworks show,” Nelson said on Tuesday. “Let’s not flick matches at a powder keg.”
Yet if county supervisors get political aides, Woolery figured, so should countywide elected officials. Woolery kept pressing over the past few months, finding an ally in newly-elected Assessor Claude Parrish, who also wants a pair of political aides.
The debate went public shortly thereafter, prompting a full review of just what political aides – officially called executive assistants – do for supervisors and other county elected officials.
Those kinds of slots have garnered attention for years, given numerous scandals with supervisors placing their aides into county bureaucratic jobs, often without formal recruitments. In addition, there has been much concern expressed about county managers’ inability to supervise political workers inside departments.
The most extreme case involved former Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante, who was put into a high-ranking slot at OC Public Works and eventually ended up being charged with a dozen felony sex crimes involving female subordinates working for him.
Another executive aide, Brian Probolsky, who is an elected official with the Moulton Niguel Water District, was recently sanctioned (forced to take a few days off without pay) after failing to document his time off to attend water district board meetings and threatening internal human resources investigators with political retribution for looking into his timecard issues.
Probolsky took time off from his official duties at the OC Community Resources agency in December while under investigation and reportedly worked on the campaign of Supervisor Andrew Do, who won a special election to represent the First District in late January.
Right after Do won his election, Probolsky went to go work for him as his chief of staff.
“That’s what we want, political hacks,” Do said on Tuesday, arguing that elected officials are indeed looking for executive aides with political savvy to help them.
Do’s comment raised eyebrows through the entire supervisors’ chambers on Tuesday, with supervisors and many observers expressing shock over his frankness from the dais.
Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer publicly reminded Do that people being paid by taxpayers can’t engage in electioneering at work.
Do then revised his comments, saying what he meant was that supervisors often need aides who understand the politics behind decisions, how to defend budget goals for elected officials and how to navigate bureaucratic waters.
He also fired back, saying that county supervisors shouldn’t be telling other elected officials what kinds of workers they can employ.
“I’m extremely uncomfortable discussing this issue,” Do said. “We’re being asked to limit and control the employees the elected has…they answer directly to their constituents.”
“While we as a board have the power to dictate their budget, I don’t know if it’s appropriate to go to the point of controlling who they can use on their staff,” Do said.
During a recent county survey of political aides, it was found that they are used differently by countywide elected officials.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has four political aides, mainly used in community relations roles. Rackauckas has one slot, used for his press liason. Clerk-Recorder Hugh Nugyen doesn’t use any political aides. Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Friedenrich has the job slots on her payroll but hasn’t filled them.
Nelson said it’s entirely appropriate for county supervisors to oversee the county budget, adding that they do have control over classifications of jobs. And, he added, the county shouldn’t keep adding political workers.
“We’re not naïve here,” Nelson said. “What’s going to happen here is you’ll have less on the professional level and more political…it’s going to get us in trouble…when it does, it’s the five of us here that look like jerks.
“The county is us,” Nelson warned.
Norberto Santana Jr. can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.