Orange County supervisors on Tuesday appointed Frank Kim, the county's widely-respected finance official who recently served as acting CEO, as its new permanent chief executive, effective next week.
Kim, who was appointed unanimously in closed session, has worked at the county for nearly 20 years and rose through the ranks to become its chief financial officer. He’s developed a solid reputation among county supervisors, labor leaders and journalists – a somewhat rare feat in the often politically-charged county government.
He served as acting CEO in January when Mike Giancola went on medical leave to recover from back surgery. Then, last month, Giancola abruptly announced that he planned to retire earlier than expected, in September, citing health issues. Tuesday's announcement bumps up the timeline by four months.
“At a time where Orange County is emerging from bankruptcy [debt], it is important to have a county executive officer who is fiscally sound and strategically minded when it comes to the budget and finances of Orange County,” supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer said in a statement.
“Frank Kim will bring a wealth of knowledge and a deep understanding of Orange County’s fiscal structure and potential.”
A top official with the county’s largest employees union echoed Spitzer, saying Kim has “always been a straight shooter” with employees.
“We’ve appreciated his professionalism and his candor with us, and we are optimistic that he’ll bring a skill-set to the county that will be good for our members as well as the taxpayers,” said Jennifer Muir, assistant general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
“He’s been respected throughout the county for a really, really long time.”
The deputy sheriff’s union also weighed in with support for Kim.
“Frank Kim has the experience, the knowledge and the character to serve as the county’s chief executive officer,” said Mark Nichols, executive director of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, in a statement.
And Kim received extremely high, and frank, praise from Giancola.
“I think you guys have made a fantastic [decision] and unquestionably a really good choice,” Giancola told supervisors. “He’s much smarter and better than I am, and I think he’s gonna take the county in a really good direction.”
If supervisors proceed as planned, they would be terminating Giancola’s contract, triggering a severance equal to three months’ pay, or $62,000.
It’s unclear why Giancola’s departure was again cut shorter than planned.
He wasn’t available for comment Tuesday evening, according to county spokeswoman Jean Pasco. And Spitzer didn’t return a message seeking comment.
Kim, meanwhile, won’t be commenting publicly until his appointment is finalized next Tuesday, Pasco said.
Kim attended Cal State Long Beach for both undergraduate and graduate school, earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in public administration in 1994, according to his LinkedIn profile.
He worked as a staff accountant at the former accounting giant Arthur Andersen in the early 1990s, before moving over to Cal State Long Beach and the American Restaurant Group.
Kim then joined the county in 1995, working as a senior accountant and management analyst in various county agencies. He became the county’s budget director in 2007, before his promotion to chief financial officer in May 2013.
The county hasn’t yet announced what Kim’s proposed salary would be after his promotion. He currently makes about $192,000 per year, while Giancola makes $248,000.
As CEO, Kim will help oversee a massive network of agencies with a combined budget of $5.4 billion that serve the 3.1 million residents of the nation’s sixth largest county.
The county government provides a wide range of services, including law enforcement, public health services, social services, libraries, mental health services, parks, tax collection, restaurant inspections and many others.
It has a largely decentralized structure of department and agency heads, though the CEO’s office oversees many countywide efforts. That includes preparing board agendas and coordinating information technology projects, budgets, real estate, contracting, human resources and community relations, among other responsibilities.
Among Kim’s top priorities will likely be boosting Orange County’s share of property tax revenues from the state, an effort that county supervisors and labor leaders consider to be of utmost importance.
Orange County receives the lowest property tax share of any California county, according to county officials. Just 6 cents of every property tax dollar comes back to Orange County, compared to a 17 percent average for the 15 largest counties, officials say.
If Orange County was on par with other large counties, it would receive an extra $606 million per year, according to county consultant Capitol Matrix Consulting.
In replacing Giancola, supervisors opted to not conduct a nationwide search for a new CEO, a departure from the approach taken the last time around.
When Tom Mauk was forced to resign in the wake of the Carlos Bustamante abuse scandal, supervisors looked outside the county for a replacement.
That led them to Santa Barbara County’s then-CEO, Chandra Wallar, who was in talks to take the Orange County job.
But the deal fell apart after her salary request erupted into a public debate over executive salary and pension compensation.
Supervisors then looked to an internal candidate, Giancola, and appointed him to the top job two years ago.
In his statement, Spitzer described Giancola as “a true example of what it means to rise through the ranks, having started his career over 30 years ago as a front line employee.”
“Working his way through the establishment, Mike offered an understanding of our history and dynamics that proved valuable in shaping Orange County into what it is today. His leadership will be missed.”
Giancola’s tenure, meanwhile, was not without controversy.
He received two raises in his first year-and-a-half on the job, which drew criticism from labor leaders as county officials were taking a hard line with employees during contract negotiations.
And a recent employee survey showed low confidence in Giancola’s leadership.
OCEA's Muir emphasized that it’s critical that the leader of an organization leads by example.
“Frank has been a well-respected leader in the county and has always been a straight shooter with us, so we are optimistic that we’ll be able to work with him,” she said.
You can contact Nick Gerda at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.