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O.C.'s Top Job Finally Filled

Supervisors end a long search by selecting Thomas Mauk, a former city manager of Norco, La Habra and Whittier. He starts Oct. 15.

September 29, 2004|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Board of Supervisors ended a nearly two-year search for a county executive officer Tuesday by hiring a former city manager to supervise its 17,000 employees and $4.6-billion budget.

Thomas Mauk, former city manager of La Habra, Whittier and Norco, will oversee the nation's fifth most populous county and a government agency still burdened with debt from its 1994 bankruptcy.

One of his first challenges will come next year when hundreds of employees are expected to retire in order to cash in on improved pension benefits.

It's a post that has had little in the way of job security. Mauk, 60, will become the county's fifth chief executive since 1995. Several of his predecessors were fired or forced out because of disagreements with the Board of Supervisors.

Board members agreed to hire Mauk after unsuccessfully courting other candidates, including managers of Riverside County and Clark County, Nev., which includes Las Vegas.

Mauk said it makes no difference to him that he was not the first candidate contacted by the Board of supervisors.

Mauk said he considered his key responsibilities to include managing the county budget, labor negotiations and confronting the possible loss of $30 million annually if voters approve a measure that would force the county to give additional sales tax revenue to the county Fire Authority.

"I'm delighted, that's all I can tell you," he said. "Orange County sets the standard. It has historically been a well-run county."

Mauk said one of his biggest achievements was helping the city of Whittier recover from the devastating 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake, which damaged 5,000 homes and businesses and caused $78-million in damage in the city.

He was city manager of Whittier from 1980 to 1999 and La Habra from 1999 to 2002.

For the last two years, Mauk worked for public policy consultant MBIA MuniServices.

La Habra City Councilman G. Steve Simonian, who recruited Mauk to leave Whittier and take the La Habra job, said Orange County made a wise decision.

He credits Mauk with overhauling La Habra, attracting businesses to the city and improving its services to the public.

"We had a dream of changing the way the city was run, the way it looked, the way it operated," Simonian said.

"We gave Tom a blank check to reinvent the city. He brought over top quality people. La Habra is now a very successful city, basically due to Tom Mauk's efforts."

Mauk said understanding his role in county government would be one of his strengths.

"What I bring to the table is a respect for and understanding of the elected officials. The board's the boss," he said.

Mauk will be paid $215,000 per year, plus other benefits, including a $7,000-per-year car allowance, four weeks of paid leave and county contributions to a retirement plan.

Supervisor Bill Campbell said he was impressed with Mauk for several reasons, including a good reputation in other cities and experience as a budget analyst for the city of Los Angeles.

"Certainly he has not run something this large, but he should have all the skills," Campbell said.

Supervisor Chris Norby said Mauk was a good match for the county's needs.

"I think we got the best guy we interviewed," Norby said.

"He's got the background we were looking for: the city manager of several cities, experience in the private sector, a financial advisor for public entities."

Norby said Mauk's immediate responsibilities would include overseeing the November election and managing the county's finances, which include a retirement system more than $1 billion in debt.

"I'm glad we got the guy. I want him to start work as soon as possible," Norby said.

Mauk, who will take over for interim CEO James Ruth on Oct. 15, said the county operation was much larger than any of the city governments he had managed.

"Counties provide a wider range of services than cities generally do," he said.

"It's going to be a terrific challenge."

Simonian said Mauk's performance in La Habra was evidence that he would succeed in Orange County.

"Basically, he has a larger staff to accomplish a larger mission," he said.

"He'll be able to do that. He's a quality guy and size is not going to make a difference."

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(Begin Text of Infobox)

Changes at the top

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The county's executive officer runs county government on a day-to-day basis, with input from the Board of Supervisors. The newest CEO and previous officers:

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Thomas Mauk

Mauk, 60, has been working as a consultant in the private sector for the last two years. He was city manager of La Habra from 1999 to 2002 and of Whittier for 19 years before that. Mauk earned a master's degree in business adminsitration from USC in 1972. A widower, he has four grown children and six grandchildren.

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James D. Ruth

February 2003 to October 31

Ruth, Anaheim city manager from 1990 to 2001, has been interim CEO since Schumacher was fired in January 2003. Ruth took the job temporarily and said he would remain until a permanent CEO was found.

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Michael Schumacher

May 2000 to January 2003

The respected chief probation officer was hailed as a consensus builder when he was tapped to replace Mittermeier. But some supervisors said they felt blindsided by the financial meltdown last year in the Planning and Development Services Department.

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Jan Mittermeier

September 1995 to May 2000

The board turned to a longtime county employee to replace Popejoy. But the John Wayne Airport director clashed with some board members over her style and how much authority she should have. She resigned after several efforts to oust her.

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William J. Popejoy

February to July 1995

The Newport Beach businessman was brought in to clean up county finances after the bankruptcy. He abruptly quit after five months, saying the Board of Supervisors micromanaged the government so much that he could not do his job.

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Sources: Times reports, Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby

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