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O.C. Supervisors Blasted for Rush to Hire Moorlach

March 07, 1995|JODI WILGOREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The co-chair of the state Senate panel probing the Orange County financial fiasco blasted the Board of Supervisors on Monday for planning to appoint a new county treasurer without a wide search for the best candidate.

"We cannot allow this Board of Supervisors and (its) financial team to go on running the show as they have," Sen. Lucy Killea (I-San Diego) wrote in a letter to her colleagues on the state Senate Special Committee on Local Government Investment. "They continue to demonstrate themselves incapable of breaking out of the incestuous political culture they created."

In a separate letter to the supervisors Monday, the foreman of the Orange County Grand Jury joined what has become a chorus of criticism, urging the board to expand the selection process "to restore the confidence of the Orange County electorate."

"We just feel a little more openness in the selection process will restore confidence in our leaders," explained Mario Lazo, foreman of the government watchdog group. "They're free to do what they do. We just hope they do things to restore confidence in county government."

After more than two decades as treasurer-tax collector, Robert L. Citron resigned Dec. 4, two days before Orange County became the largest government entity in U.S. history to declare bankruptcy. Thomas E. Daxon, who was appointed interim treasurer, plans to leave the county March 20.

Four of the five supervisors had been poised to appoint, as early as today, Costa Mesa accountant John M.W. Moorlach--who lost in a landslide when he ran against Citron last year. But that move has been delayed because of a routine background check being conducted by the Sheriff's Department.

Despite the criticism from Killea and the grand jury, supervisors reiterated their commitment Monday to appointing Moorlach as treasurer-tax collector as soon as possible.

"There's only one candidate right now, and that's John Moorlach," said Supervisor Roger R. Stanton. "It's pretty hard to back a phantom candidate when there's nobody else out there with their hand up."

Last week, the board rejected a plan proposed by county Chief Executive Officer William J. Popejoy, and backed by Daxon, to have a committee of five financial experts establish qualifications and criteria for the position and conduct a national search to fill it. Popejoy and Daxon, as well as other observers, have suggested that someone with more investment experience than Moorlach--who has spent his career handling tax matters--might be a more prudent choice.

But the supervisors said that forming such a committee and conducting a nationwide search for the best possible treasurer candidate would be a waste of time, because they had already made up their minds to appoint Moorlach.

Supervisor Marian Bergeson said Monday a national search would take too long, but that she and Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez plan to propose a compromise in which the board would hold a public hearing and question Moorlach, similar to the confirmation process for appointed posts in the state and federal governments.

"The position needs to be filled as soon as possible," Bergeson said. "Mr. Moorlach has been very much aware of the events that have transpired, so the learning curve would not be as great as if you were going with someone from out of state."

But Killea accused the board of simply playing politics by crowning Moorlach, who has been widely praised in public forums as the prophet who predicted the county investment pool's stunning collapse.

Citron was the only Democrat in a countywide elected office. Moorlach has been active in local Republican Party politics.

Moorlach fired off a letter Monday responding to Killea, and complained in an interview that "somehow I've become the victim of the process."

"I never told the board to not go through this (selection) process. If they need to ask questions, that's fine," Moorlach said. "I'm just feeling like, wait a second, how come I'm getting beat up? I have no control over these things.

"I definitely know I'm qualified," Moorlach added. "This is not just managing money, this is a twofold discipline. It's treasurer hyphen tax collector. I'm a certified public accountant, I'm also a certified financial planner. I have proven that I have knowledge of investment."

In her letter, Killea complained about Moorlach's testimony before the special committee last Friday, in which Moorlach refused to name the experts who helped him analyze the investment portfolio during the campaign. Moorlach also criticized state officials for not stepping in to help financially strapped Orange County schools.

In the letter to her Senate colleagues, Killea also blasted Daxon for choosing A. G. Edwards as one of the county's new underwriters as a reward because one of the firm's local broker's was among the first to criticize Citron's risky investment practices and then became involved in Moorlach's campaign.

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