Official stripped of authority over county's registrar of voters

An Orange County official once convicted of election fraud has been quietly stripped of his authority over the registrar of voters.

Early last month, labor leaders had expressed outrage that Chief Operating Officer Mark Denny, who pleaded guilty in 1996 to an election fraud charge, was given authority over the department tasked with running elections.

Denny will keep administrative and budget oversight of the department, but Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley will report directly to county Chief Executive Officer Mike Giancola.

The move, Orange County Employees Assn. General Manager Nick Berardino said in a statement, will "restore the confidence of the voting public and will protect [Denny] from constant scrutiny after every close election."

Berardino, who also sits on the Orange County Fair Board, wrote in an email to the Board of Supervisors that the decision to put Denny in charge "demonstrates a clear disregard of the sanctity of the precious American privilege of the vote."

OCEA, the county's largest public employee union, is locked in a series of heated contract negotiations with the county.

Giancola defended Denny last month, saying that he had "full confidence" in his work. Last week, though, the CEO's office issued a new organizational chart — one that shows a direct line between Kelley and Giancola.

Giancola echoed his support in a statement this week, saying Denny "has done an outstanding job," adding that the conviction has since been expunged from the former county parks director's record.

Giancola did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

The misdemeanor fraud charge stemmed from Denny's involvement in a Republican scheme 18 years ago to manipulate the ballot in a state Assembly race by circulating nominating petitions for a decoy Democratic candidate.

At the time, Denny was working as an aide to then-Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle. Denny resigned his post and was sentenced to three years' probation, along with community service and a fine, according to published reports at the time.

Denny was also barred from participating in campaign work during his probation.

According to county spokeswoman Jean Pasco, Denny later worked as former Supervisor Bill Campbell's chief of staff before he was hired as director of county parks in 2008.

The position of chief operating officer functions as a liaison among departments, including the registrar of voters, and was created during a restructuring of the county's chief executive office under Giancola, who was appointed in May.

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