Orange County Supervisors are expected to take a hard look at the role of political aides in county government Tuesday, after the results of an internal survey show few restrictions on the use of at-will, executive aides among elected officials, including wide variations in pay and responsibility.
Aides to county supervisors as well as politically connected agency executives have been at the center of numerous scandals inside the county government in recent years, sparking supervisors to request a review of what roles executive assistants — or EAs, they’re referred to in HR parlance — have played on political staffs.
For years, political aides to supervisors have been virtually guaranteed jobs inside county government agencies when their bosses left office, with aides often skipping official recruitments altogether.
There are no formal restrictions to how county supervisors hire political aides, with, until now, little clarity on how elected department heads are utilizing the discretionary position.
The survey also looks at seven other county Board of Supervisors and their use of political aides: Alameda, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura.
In other county governments, elected officials share similar discretion in determining the salary and type of work their political aides will perform.
In Orange County, EAs can make anywhere from $14.42 to $60.59 an hour, based on the complexity of the work they do, according to a county staff report.
Political staff for supervisors in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties had a narrower range of pay and duties for political aides.
In Los Angeles County, for example, the hourly rate for aides ranges from $33.66 to $44.15 an hour, depending on experience. On the other end of the spectrum, political aides in Santa Clara County can earn anywhere between $9.00 to $73.95 an hour.
According to the county’s survey, while several counties have just one major job classification for political aides, others included a number of sub-classifications.
Compared to Orange County, where supervisors can choose between three levels of political aides, San Bernardino County supervisors choose from a menu of numerous contracted positions, from field representative, to intern coordinator, to constituent services representative. Ventura County distinguishes between seven levels of executive assistant positions.
Some elected department heads are also requesting that they be able to hire political aides, too.
Auditor-Controller Eric Woolery, who was elected to his first term in Nov. 2014, is requesting three at-will executive assistants.
Political aides are just a necessity of public office, Woolery says, writing in a memo to supervisors that his EAs would serve as “senior adviser(s) and closest ideological confidants to assist in implementing…his vision for the office.”
Other elected county department heads echoed that sentiment, according to the county staff report, saying the at-will position provides crucial flexibility and confidentiality for political leaders.
The offices of the Sheriff-Coroner, District Attorney, Auditor-Controller, Clerk-Recorder and Treasurer-Tax Collector also employ political aides, while the Assessor’s Office said it would like to add an EA position in the future.
Sheriff-Coroner Sandra Hutchens has the most number of political aides in her department, compared to other elected department heads, with three EAs dedicated to community, government and public relations, and a fourth designated as a “regional peer support coordinator.”
Based on Tuesday’s discussion, Supervisors could opt to keep the status quo — where Board approval is required for all new executive assistant positions, and the county CEO approves changes in salary on a case-by-case basis, or establish more formal guidelines and limits for how the position is utilized.
For example, supervisors could abolish the use of EAs by elected department heads, establish an allotment for each department, or develop more specific hiring criteria and job duties for each salary level.
Read the county survey and related attachments on the county’s website.