The first Democrat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 12 years took office Tuesday, as the supervisors scheduled a March 12 special election to replace the seat Todd Spitzer held until he was sworn in Monday as district attorney.
Doug Chaffee, a moderate Democrat and former Fullerton mayor, won election in November to the north county 4th District seat. He replaces Shawn Nelson, who was termed out and moved to the DA’s office Monday to become Spitzer’s second-in-command ahead of an expected future run for judge.
“You’re all human beings, and I want to treat you with kindness and respect, both here and outside of this forum here,” Chaffee told the other supervisors.
“I look forward to working with you. It is indeed family, and I want to be part of that,” added Chaffee, who was elected with major financial support from the Orange County Employees Association (OCEA), which represents most of the county government’s workers, as well as at least $675,000 of his own money.
Chaffee was sworn into office by his wife, Paulette Chaffee, who pled guilty last month to two election-related misdemeanors for stealing campaign signs critical of her during her run for Fullerton City Council. She suspended her campaign and was not elected to the council. Her sentencing in the criminal case is scheduled for March 20.
The Board of Supervisors oversees the $6 billion county administration of homelessness, mental health, social services, law enforcement, public works and other services.
Since 1987, Democrats have held a single seat on the five-member board for just half of a four-year term, when Lou Correa served from early 2005 to late 2006. Correa vacated the seat after he was elected to the state Senate, and now is a congressman.
Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Michelle Steel, who have served on the board since 2013 and were re-elected last year to additional four-year terms, also were sworn in Tuesday. Bartlett was elected by her colleagues as the board’s new chairwoman and Steel is now vice chair.
“We are a true, big county family, with 18,000 of us here…We all work together as a great team,” Bartlett said of county workers and the supervisors.
Regarding her re-election last year, Bartlett said: “I was fortunate enough to run unopposed,” adding she was “grateful for that.”
Steel thanked her husband of 37 years, Shawn Steel, who represents California on the Republican National Committee, as well as her office staff.
“Without these staff members…there’s no way that I can really deliver good policies and good things for Orange County,” Steel added.
After the swearing-in, Chaffee invited the other three supervisors in for a group hug.
Jokes About Spitzer Tension
Seated in the audience was Spitzer, whose presence sparked joking about how relieved the supervisors must be to not have him up on the dais. Spitzer drew intense frustration from them last spring when he went into their districts to warn residents to fight proposed homeless shelters.
Do pointed to Spitzer and, smiling, noted that for the first time in years, Spitzer was in the audience.
“You like me on this side?” Spitzer joked, prompting laughter from the audience and Do, who nodded his head in agreement.
“Now that we have the ability to mute!” Do replied, smiling and pointing to the public speaker podium where Spitzer would now have to speak, which prompted yet more laughter from Spitzer and the audience.
“I’m enjoying this privilege!” Do added.
During his swearing-in ceremony the night before, Spitzer laid out plans for a sweeping set of changes to the DA’s office.
In their speeches, Chaffee, Bartlett and Steel did not offer any policy specifics for what they plan to do over the coming years. The closest was a general desire to continue building the county’s homeless services, expressed without specifics by Bartlett, Chaffee, and Do.
Special Election for Spitzer’s Seat
The March 12 election is for the 3rd District seat, which runs from Irvine up through Orange and Anaheim Hills to Yorba Linda. The outcome will determine whether Republicans maintain a 4-1 majority on the supervisors or lose another seat to Democrats.
Democrats have narrowed their field of three known candidates down to one, former Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.
Republicans have two leading candidates: Irvine Mayor Don Wagner, who has had major campaign support from Great Park developer FivePoint; and former Anaheim Councilwoman Kris Murray, who has had major campaign support from Disney.
Candidates for the March special election can file paperwork starting Wednesday morning to get on ballot, with a Jan. 28 deadline. Following the election, the results would likely be certified sometime between March 21 and April 11, after which the winning candidate would be sworn in, according to Neal Kelley, who oversees the election as the county’s registrar of voters.
Unlike the north county 4th District won by Chaffee in November, Republicans have the voter registration advantage in the 3rd District. The GOP has a 3.8 percentage-point margin above Democrats in the 3rd District, versus Democrats’ 10.6-point advantage in the 4th District.
Special elections also tend to have much lower voter turnout, which typically favors Republicans.
Chaffee’s First Decisions as Supervisor
On Tuesday, the supervisors held a regular business meeting after the swearing in. Chaffee mostly voted with his Republican colleagues, and it wasn’t immediately clear to what extent Chaffee would advocate different policy approaches on issues like homelessness and mental health.
Out of the 31 items on the agenda, Chaffee voted with his three Republican colleagues on all but one issue. His opposing vote was a no on having a private contractor, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), handle certain information technology services, which ended up narrowly passing on a 3-1 vote. Chaffee wondered if the work could instead be performed by county staff.
With Spitzer’s former seat vacant until late March or April, Chaffee has – at least temporarily – additional power to potentially shoot down proposed actions by the other supervisors.
Until Spitzer’s seat is filled, if Chaffee votes against an item, it takes only one of the other three supervisors to vote against it for the item to be rejected.
Chaffee also announced his staff who would be joining his office:
- LaShe Rodriguez, a former state legislative staffer and deputy campaign manager of Chaffee’s supervisor run, as his chief of staff
- Al Jabbar, an Anaheim Union High School District board member who until recently worked as a county Health Care Agency manager, as deputy chief of staff
- Jannelle Welker, former OCEA staff member, as policy advisor
- Austin Mejia, graduate student and former campaign staffer to Chaffee and others, as field representative.
$1.7 Million Increase to Construction Contract
Supervisors on Tuesday also approved a $1.7 million mid-project increase to a construction contractor, known as a change order.
The increase is to Ortiz Enterprises, Inc. for its contract to build the Oso Parkway bridge over the 241 toll road, in an unincorporated part of south county between Mission Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita. The original contract called for using soil at the site for the project, but it turns out the soil type wouldn’t work, according to county staff, and instead soil will be brought in from elsewhere.
The supervisors appeared ready to approve it without public questioning, with Bartlett emphasizing the money for the contract is ultimately paid by a different agency, the toll road operator Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA).
But Chaffee wanted to know why the additional work wasn’t included in the original contract scope. After staff and Bartlett provided answers – related to discovering bad soil conditions after the project started – Chaffee voted with the other supervisors to approve the increase.
Chair and Vice Chair Chosen for 2019
Toward the end of their meeting Tuesday, the supervisors chose Bartlett as their chair and Steel as their vice chair for the next year.
“We have an open-door policy. So at any point in time if you want to reach us, pick up the phone and call,” Bartlett said in her swearing-in speech to the public. “We really need to hear from each and every one of you out there in order for us to do our jobs to the best of our ability.”
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.