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Orange County In Bankruptcy : Victims Of Circumstance / Fifty Faces Of The Financial Collapse

March 19, 1995

They had every reason to believe their government careers were steeped in security. Then, on Dec. 1, they were told the investment pool had lost $1.5 billion. Within a week, county government filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. The prospect of layoffs became clear three days before Christmas.

Nearly 200 Orange County employees have since lost their jobs, as the Board of Supervisors scrambles to slash costs. By summer, their numbers could increase fivefold.

What follows are the personal stories of 50 laid-off county workers, who must rebuild their lives because of mistakes made by someone else.

Below are their stories, as told to Times staff writers Lee Romney, Rebecca Trounson, Ching-Ching Ni, Tina Nguyen, Lily Dizon and David Haldane, with correspondents Geoff Boucher and Catherine Gewertz.

***

PAUL SHERIDAN, 51

Job: Senior systems planning analyst, with county eight years.

Personal: Salary: $68,000. Married with four children. Facing foreclosure on home.

Impact: "The county stopped medical benefits for the whole family. It would cost us $470 a month to keep them. My little boy now, he has an earache. Before, we'd just say, 'OK, put him in the car and take him to Kaiser.' Now, I don't even know where to go. . . So you hope maybe he'll get better. My wife did find a part-time job. Before we got married, she was a counselor. Now she's helping with abused children. What I do is I become Mom. Believe me, being a mom for three days a week while she's working is a full-time job.

"It's tough. You go out looking, you get hopeful, and you don't find anything that comes close to where you can use your talents. You get kind of down. It's been a roller coaster. Sometimes you're with your family and don't have all the patience that you once had. I look back and say, 'Why did I just snap at the kids? Why was I not listening to my wife?'

"It's not a fun time. In the back of your mind, even when you're playing with the kids, you're always wondering: 'What can I be doing next, where can I be checking? What can I be doing . . . now!'

"Our boss was summoned to the director's office. We knew something unusual was happening. He came in with a very down look on his face and kind of gave a thumbs down. About 45 minutes later, the director comes in. She said, 'Well, you have three hours to leave, so pack everything up.' That's kind of a shocker being professionals and 'part of the county family.'

"You'd think they'd give you at least a couple of weeks to make a smooth transition. I was working on a lot of contracts with outside vendors for data systems. They watched over us, told us to turn in our passwords to the different computers. Maybe there's a reason, but it really hurt because it felt like a distrust. It was raining cats and dogs and I was carrying my boxes home and I was soaking wet. I was trying to get home and there was a detour. I thought they should have let us wrap things up in a professional manner. We had a lot of important paperwork. I wanted to make sure that someone knows where it is."

Next: "Like a lot of people I've got a lot of leads, a lot of possibilities, but no offers. . . . I'm trying to find a job with a reasonable income, then I get this offer for a part-time job as a pager in the library. It hurts."

***

LAP DOAN, 51

Job: Custodian, with county three months.

Personal: Salary: $14,996. Single. Four children.

Impact: "I've had to reduce everything. I don't make much money. During our seven years (in Huntington Beach), we've survived on my low income. I've never bought anything for more than $500, except for our washing machine.

"My kids want to take driving classes, but we don't have a car available for them to practice on. I'm not sure whether I can afford the lessons at this point. I feel bad because they really want to learn. But it's not a good time.

"I'm thinking about moving to Dallas, because the cost of living there is much lower. My niece keeps offering her home to me and my children. I want to go, but the kids don't want to leave their schools. Since we left Vietnam, we've always lived in this house."

Next: "I'm trying hard to find any other cleaning job with a second shift. Just as long as I can schedule my work around my children and eventually get insurance and Social Security, we will be fine. I'm even considering manicure work so that I can find the money to raise my children properly."

***

DIANE BOUCHARD, 34

Job: Property agent in GSA real estate division, with county 13 years.

Personal: Salary: $35,000. Husband is a county appraiser. Two preschool-age children. Expects to start a new job next week.

Impact: "It's a secretarial position for a property management firm. It pays $28,000. I'm not happy that I have to take a pay cut, but that's kind of the reality. Nobody's got any money. It's an entry-level position. It's a really very stable, reliable company.

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