County to Spend $365,000 on Expanding Ranks of Political Aides

Norberto Santana Jr.

County supervisors executive aides sitting near the supervisors' dais, monitoring legislative action.

Orange County supervisors’ recent decision to add new political aide jobs now has a price tag for taxpayers: $365,000 per year.

At their March 3 meeting, supervisors voted 3-2 to create four new political aide positions 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.

This week, on Tuesday, county supervisors are slated to formally approve the job additions, which human resources staff estimate will cost $365,000.

Also up for approval is a lifting of the requirement that the upper salary range for political aides – roughly $54 per hour to $60 per hour – be reserved for employees with “outstanding performance.”

It’s unclear whether the lifting “outstanding performance” requirement will lead to other chiefs of staff getting pay bumps.

Recently-elected Supervisor Do is already paying two new hires at the full rate: Brian Probolsky and Nick Lecong, according to the Orange County Register.

The expansion in the ranks of political aides comes 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 at the March 3 meeting. “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.

When he returned from his leave in January, Probolsky went immediately to work for Do.