New Orange County CEO Frank Kim began his tenure Tuesday with a shout-out to county employees, who he said have "kept their eye on the ball" during years of difficult times brought on by the Great Recession.
"And because of that, we’ve accomplished so much," Kim said just after taking his oath of office.
He added: “I want to say to all the county employees, you have my commitment that I will work with you to make this county a better place for the citizens of Orange County, the businesses that operate here and for the employees that show up to work every day.”
With his comments, Kim sent a clear message that he intends to address the morale problems that persisted during the relatively short tenure of his predecessor, Mike Giancola.
A recent and widely circulated county survey of employee attitudes showed that responses to the statement "I have confidence in the leader of [the] County of Orange” were 29 percent below he benchmark for other government agencies.
Kim, who until Tuesday served as chief financial officer, was named interim CEO in January after Giancola went on medical leave following back surgery. Then, last month, Giancola announced plans to retire early, which were abruptly moved up again last week.
With their choice of Kim, a Korean American, supervisors appointed the first non-white CEO in county history.
His contract calls for him to be paid $248,000 per year in salary plus benefits. And because Kim’s wife and sister also work for the county, the County Counsel's office was tasked with writing up letters how to handle any workplace complaints that might involve them.
In an interview with Voice of OC, Kim reiterated his commitment to deal with the issues raised by the employee survey, which included thousands of individual responses.
“We need to engage our employees, because morale and dedication and job satisfaction – all of those kinds of things are important," he said. "We can’t accomplish anything without [them].”
Another key priority for Kim is shoring up technological and physical infrastructure that was put on hold during the recession.
The projects include improvements to county utilities such as water piping and electricity for Civic Center buildings, along with computer system upgrades.
Kim will also be evaluating centralization efforts at the county, including that of human resources and the possibility of centralizing IT and contract procurement services.
He also pointed to the county’s low share of property taxes – which are less than half of what other large California counties receive back from Sacramento – as a key issue to tackle. Kim noted that it's unclear how Orange County could convince the state Legislature to give those funds, though he remained optimistic.
“It’s important to continue to engage” on the tax equity issue, Kim said, given that creative solutions come from many different places.
Kim has worked at the county for nearly 20 years and rose through the ranks to become its top finance official. And, at least for now, he's being universally praised for his fairness and honesty.
“I cannot tell you the amount of trust that you have earned over the years from the department heads as well as certainly the board and the employees in the county,” Supervisor Andrew Do told Kim at Tuesday’s meeting, noting that Kim led the county through a “really difficult time” in 2008 and 2009.
“You have the requisite leadership character, strength, knowledge in order to guide us into the future,” Do added.
“I’m so pleased you’re here,” said Supervisor Shawn Nelson. “You are one of the most ethical, honest people I know.”
Supervisors' Chairman Todd Spitzer noted that history was made Tuesday with the swearing in of a person of color to the county's top job.
“I think this continues this county’s commitment to diversity,” Spitzer said, noting the historic nature of the appointment.
Supervisors also thanked Giancola for his service, with Spitzer saying he is leaving county after “three-plus decades of exemplary service, and you have everything today to be proud of.”
Giancola said “it’s been humbling trying to guide and work collaboratively with all my 18,000 dedicated county colleagues,” and thanked his executive staff and the supervisors.
“These guys get no credit, each of them, in their own way, [for] the passion, the care and the dedication and hard work,” Giancola said of the supervisors. “Some of these folks are on 18 boards, 15 boards.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Kim's salary is $3,000 more than Giancola's. Giancola received raises since his appointment as CEO that the county says put his salary at about the same level as Kim's.