Orange County's top official resigned Thursday amid criticism of how government leaders handled allegations that a public works executive sexually assaulted multiple women over an eight-year span.
After an hours-long closed session, Supervisor John Moorlach emerged to announce Chief Executive Tom Mauk's resignation, effective Aug. 3. It's the latest in a series of departures from county government since Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante was charged with 12 felonies and four misdemeanors in connection with the alleged battery and sexual assault of seven of his subordinates.
The charges have raised serious questions about how the county handles internal investigations. In the Bustamante case, one investigation was assigned to a subordinate staff member, and another was quietly filed away for months. The findings were turned over to prosecutors with the Orange County district attorney's office in March, a full year after the first allegations about Bustamante's behavior surfaced.
Earlier Thursday, Bustamante appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to six felony counts of false imprisonment, three felony counts of assault with intent to commit a sexual offense, and single counts of stalking, attempted sexual battery by restraint and grand theft for misusing public funds. He also faces misdemeanor charges of sexual battery, assault and battery.
Bustamante, a councilman since 2004, has maintained his innocence since resigning last fall from his post as an executive in the public works department.
Mauk will receive about $270,000 in severance in exchange for not suing the county. His county contract was set to expire in October 2013. He made $271,000, including benefits, each year. "We had to come up with an amount that was agreeable to the five of us and to him," Moorlach said.
With Mauk's departure, each person who oversaw Bustamante has either left or gone on leave. Bustamante's supervisor, Jess Carbajal, was fired earlier this month. Deputy Chief Executive Alisa Drakodaidis has taken a medical leave after giving a scathing letter to supervisors alleging abuses within county government. The letter has not been released to the public.
Bob Franz, the county's chief financial officer, will serve as the acting chief executive until Sept. 11. The board will hire an outside firm to help with the national recruitment of a permanent replacement.
Moorlach declined to comment on whether Mauk's resignation was connected to the Bustamante case.
"It was something we've been talking about for quite some time," Moorlach said of the exit, which he called an "opportunity." "We want to move forward," he said.
Supervisor Janet Nguyen said the resignation didn't have anything to do with the charges against Bustamante, but rather Mauk's desire to retire and spend more time with his family.
She said Mauk, 68, and the rest of county staff did everything they could at the time in regard to the investigations into the sexual assault allegations. "Every time he had the information, he acted on it," she said. "He did what anybody would do and that was get that man out of the county office."
Other supervisors did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Mauk previously served as the city manager of Norco, La Habra and Whittier. He was hired by the county in 2004 after an exhaustive two-year search. Mauk came at a time of discord for a county still reeling from its 1994 bankruptcy. He was the fifth executive since 1995. Other predecessors were fired or forced out because of disagreements with supervisors.
Fred Smoller, a college professor and long-time political observer, said the county obviously needs to do some "soul searching."
"We've got to step back and look at the big picture," he said. "There's obviously a pattern here of this type of behavior."
Nick Berardino, the manager of the county employees union, said members will have a difficult time swallowing Mauk's large payout.
"This is going to be viewed as another slap in the face," he said.
But, he added, Mauk's departure is reflective of the kind of leadership present in county government, which has 17,000 employees and a $5.6-billion budget.
"If you were to make a movie of Orange County, it would be 'Executives Gone Wild,'" he said. "There's plenty more to come."