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O.C. union seeks to oust Street

A public employees group with more than 13,000 members asks other organizations to join the effort to recall the county treasurer.

August 29, 2007|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

Orange County's largest public employees union took the first steps Tuesday toward a recall of embattled county Treasurer Chriss Street, and it urged political parties and other groups to join in the effort.

The move follows revelations about the treasurer's personal and professional legal troubles and the climbing costs for a fancy remodeling of his offices that have left even his longest-standing fellow Republican ally questioning his fitness for office.

The Orange County Employees Assn., with more than 13,000 members, could represent a potent signature-gathering force if it proceeds with the recall.

The union's general manager, Nick Berardino, declined to specify how much money the union was willing to put into the effort.

The union has never before sought the recall of an elected official. Berardino said it was not certain the union would move ahead with the recall if it did not receive support from other groups.

"Integrity in government wears no party label," Berardino said in a news conference. "The residents of Orange County deserve and demand public servants whose personal conduct in and out of office is beyond reproach.

"Unfortunately, OCEA now believes that Chriss Street's ability to properly and effectively fulfill his duties as the elected treasurer-tax collector of our county has been irreparably damaged," he said.

In an interview, Street declined to comment directly on the recall campaign but read from a statement noting that he "was elected by the people of Orange County" and that the office had achieved several advances in effective tax collection and efficient operations on his watch. Additionally, he said that two of the county's investment pools which his office oversees were recently ranked the top performers in the state by a research group.

Berardino acknowledged that the union would face an uphill battle in Republican-dominated Orange County if it were not joined by Republican groups to make the recall a nonpartisan, unified effort. In addition, a union- and Democrat-backed recall campaign could be easily portrayed as an attack on Street because of his involvement in a group seeking to roll back public employee pensions.

Berardino rejected any suggestion that Street's position on the pension debate was a motivating factor.

In initial reactions Tuesday, both the Orange County GOP and the New Majority, a coalition of wealthy, socially moderate Republicans, expressed reluctance to get involved at the moment.

Street rejected an earlier request from Supervisor John Moorlach to step down.

Frank Barbaro, the chairman of the county Democratic Party, voiced lukewarm support for the recall but said he preferred to seek Street's resignation before throwing in with the union's campaign.

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christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

Times staff writer Nardine Saad contributed to this report.

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