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ORANGE COUNTY IN BANKRUPTCY : Business Council Asked to Mediate Recovery Talks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Local government agencies that lost money in the county-run investment pool have asked the Orange County Business Council to help craft a county bankruptcy-recovery plan, just as it brokered a settlement early this year between the pool participants and the bankrupt county.

Patrick C. Shea, the lead attorney for the group of 200 schools, cities and special districts that had money in the pool when it went bankrupt Dec. 6, said he hopes local business people can find a middle ground between the county’s bid to divert revenue from special districts and the pool group’s own offer to buy assets from the county.

“We need somebody other than the county to provide a vehicle for this kind of dialogue,” Shea said.

“The Business Council provides a first line of criticism, constructive criticism, for any plan that we come up with. You’ve got the number pushers and you’ve got the technical staff and the talent to look at the various proposals by the parties and ask the unpleasant questions and hold them up to scrutiny.”

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Starting in January, Irvine Co. Vice President Gary Hunt, developer George Argyros and Thomas C. Sutton, chief executive officer of Pacific Mutual Life, met with county officials and representatives of the pool to restore trust between the two sides and get a deal done.

That resulted in the distribution to pool participants of about $4 billion in cash, along with a series of IOUs from the county for the rest.

Shea is worried that his clients’ IOUs will not be paid and wants an objective party to help him navigate the negotiations with the county.

Bruce Bennett, the county’s lead bankruptcy attorney, and Business Council leaders said Wednesday they would not be opposed to a new round of talks, though no arrangements have been made.

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“The county’s team will meet with any interested constituency at any reasonable time and place in order to attempt to resolve the county’s financial difficulties,” Bennett said. “The group that we met with last time was very qualified to be involved in this. They were very helpful.”

Wayne Wedin, chairman of the Business Council, said that if Shea’s group and the county agree they want help, he will provide it.


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