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Orange County

' ... and You're Running for What?'

Candidates for O.C. public administrator spend as much time educating voters about the duties of the job as they do campaigning.

October 21, 2002|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Orange County's public administrator plays a crucial role in protecting the estates of people who die without wills or immediate family.

Yet not many residents have ever heard of the job.

This lack of awareness has presented problems for the two candidates who seek the position, Vicki Landrus and John S. Williams. Both have turned campaign talks into something more like pubic service announcements to educate voters.

"We usually have only three to five minutes to speak to groups, and I find that I use most of that time just explaining what the job of public administrator is," said Williams, 51, a trustee for the South Orange County Community College District.

"Orange County has a growing and aging population, and it's really important for people to understand what the office does," said Landrus, 50, now the assistant public administrator.

The public administrator protects the property of those who die in Orange County when no relative or anyone else is available or legally appropriate. In some cases, a judge also may call on the public administrator to act as executor of an estate, said William A. Baker, the current public administrator, who is not seeking reelection.

Baker's office receives about 100 new cases a month. It administers the most difficult; the rest are assigned to private attorneys or the county counsel's office.

Landrus, who has raised $57,000 in campaign contributions, has won the endorsement of Baker, who cites her abilities and management skills.

Williams, a retired sergeant in the Orange County marshal's office, has the endorsement of Sheriff Michael S. Carona and about 30 police and firefighters associations in the county. He has raised $83,000.

Landrus has worked for the county 21 years, for the chief executive office and as business manager for the public defender. She was hired as assistant public administrator three years ago.

Landrus said she would improve the use of technology, such as online searches for relatives and potential heirs.

Williams said a 2001 grand jury report criticized the public administrator for failing to seek legislation requiring background checks for conservator appointees. He said the public administrator only recently sought the legislation.

If elected, Williams said he wants an elder-abuse task force and plans to train police about financial abuse of the elderly.

In the March primary, Landrus received 144,763 votes, or 41%; Williams received 126,630, or 36%.

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