The Orange County Board of Supervisors was facing a changing of the guard Tuesday, with the body expected to choose a new chair and vice chair for the year.
Instead, citing a need for continuity in contract negotiations with the county's biggest labor unions, Supervisor Patricia Bates asked to hang on to her place as the board's vice chairwoman, allowing Supervisor Shawn Nelson to serve another year as chairman.
Bates, who represents the board's District 5, said that in this "unique year," the board would benefit from the stability afforded by Nelson.
So rather than accept a nomination to become chairwoman, as would have been customary, Bates refused and supported keeping the status quo. Typically, whoever serves as vice chair one year assumes the role of chair the following year.
But District 3 Supervisor Todd Spitzer said a new person leading the board might help the county overcome deep-rooted impasses in labor negotiations.
"I think [Nelson] did a really excellent job of getting us here," he said.
However, he added, addressing Bates, "I welcome a voice, a chair, with your personality that can help potentially maneuver a new direction."
Spitzer added that with Bates and Supervisor John Moorlach running up against term limits, and Supervisor Janet Nguyen running for state Senate this year, 2015 could see as many as three new supervisors.
"We use a system where the vice chair is supposed to learn the ropes," he said.
Moorlach, who represents District 2, agreed.
Nelson said that while it was a bit of an "awkward" situation, "I want to serve, and commit to doing the best I can."
Nelson and Bates kept their posts with a 3-2 vote. Spitzer and Moorlach dissented.
Action on administrator
Also at Tuesday's meeting, the board took a step toward cleaning up a department whose elected leader was pushed out following blistering reports of "egregious" financial mismanagement.
In 2011, the county stripped Public Administrator John Williams of most of his duties, which included managing the estates of people who have died but have no known heirs or other people willing to take care of their assets. He was locked out of his office in 2012.
The position, which Nelson described as a part-time job that pays about $30,000 per year, has been vacant and those duties performed by other departments.
But because voters have decided that the public administrator should be elected, county staff gave the supervisors the option of tacking on the title to another elected position.
"This county elected office has very limited responsibility and can easily be combined under the oversight of a competent department head," Nelson said. "To combine that with [the district attorney's office], I think that's a transition that can be easily done."
On Tuesday, Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas accepted the added responsibility.
Although he said he wasn't "chomping at the bit" when approached last week about absorbing the public administrator's duties, "the public would be well-served" under the arrangement.
"There's good supervision in the [district attorney's] office who could well handle it," he told the board.
He added that because the public administrator's term was "parallel" with the district attorney's, "it doesn't create any issues."
Moorlach and Bates disagreed.
Moorlach said that with the right public administrator, the job could be an important one.
Bates said she felt uncomfortable skirting what she interpreted as the will of the voters.
"The people have spoken," Bates said. "I am reluctant to combine it with any other office."
The motion passed 3 to 2, with Moorlach and Bates dissenting.
[For the record, 4 p.m. Jan. 29: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Supervisor Todd Spitzer represented District 1. He represents District 3.]