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Common Cause Chief Criticizes County Recorder

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

General voter disinterest in the county’s more obscure political offices could produce “tragic” results in Tuesday’s election of a county clerk-recorder, the head of a local government watchdog agency said Friday.

Orange County Common Cause Director William Mitchell said he was shocked by a recent Times Orange County Poll showing Recorder Lee A. Branch leading in the race, despite the recorder’s censure earlier this year for misconduct in office.

“The public needs to know what a terrible public servant this guy is,” Mitchell said, in an unusual attack against a local officeholder.

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“Here you have someone who has done a horrible job, but there is obviously such indifference out there that he could be rewarded for it.”

The Times poll showed Branch holding a six-percentage point lead over County Clerk Gary L. Granville, whose office will be merged with the recorder’s. The same poll, however, reported that nearly half of the respondents did not know who they would support in the race.

Branch, who has held the office since 1978, said Friday he was not familiar with Mitchell nor did he know what prompted him to speak out.

“I just don’t know where he’s coming from,” Branch said.

Although Common Cause does not endorse political candidates, Mitchell did refer to Granville as an alternative candidate in the race. Also running for the office are Assistant Recorder Ella M. Murphy and attorney Christopher J. Leanders.

“I think there is a general disenchantment with the political process,” Mitchell said. “People tend to feel comfortable with names who are familiar to them and that’s it. But here you have a public official (Branch) whose performance in office has been documented to be below par.”

Citing gross mismanagement and personnel problems within the recorder’s office, the county Board of Supervisors issued its unprecedented censure of Branch earlier this year. Last month, the Orange County Grand Jury reiterated those mismanagement concerns in a review of office operations.

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Branch has described the board’s action as a politically motivated attempt to drive him from office so that supervisors could replace him with Granville, their favored candidate.

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