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O.C.'s pitch `resonated' with Mauk

The county's administrative chief was leaving for the same post in L.A. County when his employers marshaled winning arguments.

February 01, 2007|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

Monday morning, 10 minutes after Los Angeles County announced it had selected Orange County Chief Executive Thomas G. Mauk as its top manager, word was circulating among Orange County supervisors that he still had his doubts.

Believing they still had a shot to keep him at the job he had held for two years, the supervisors engaged in an all-out push to persuade him to stay. At one point, Mauk even had copies of his resignation letter hand-delivered to their offices. Undeterred, the supervisors continued their campaign to keep him, and a few hours later he had changed his mind.

They argued that Los Angeles County's labyrinthine management structure, in which the top administrator holds far less authority than Mauk does in Orange County, would be much less satisfying, a point he took to heart. The supervisors each emphasized how much they admired his work and how much they wished he would stay. With Mauk nearing retirement at age 63, the supervisors convinced him that at this stage in his career a balanced life outweighed the enormous responsibilities -- and attendant headaches -- the new job would bring.

In the end, Orange County was able to keep Mauk without offering him as much as the $270,000-per-year salary he was promised in Los Angeles. Instead, he will receive a raise from $215,000 to $241,000 a year, plus one-time retroactive salary and merit adjustments of about $9,000, and a contract extension to 2010.

"We didn't have to match L.A.," said Supervisor John Moorlach.

What follows is an account from people directly involved in this week's dramatic turnabout.

About 9:30 Monday morning, Los Angeles County supervisors announced they had selected Mauk as their next chief administrative officer. The hire was a relief there, ending a six-month search after their previous choice had turned them down.

Running the nation's most populous county would be a crowning achievement for almost any career public administrator. Its annual budget of $21 billion and nearly 100,000 employees would place it among the largest corporations in America. But the parameters of the job and issues facing that county, including a shortage of healthcare funds and severe crowding in its jails, make it a minefield as well.

In a meeting just after the Los Angeles announcement, Orange County board Chairman Chris Norby told Moorlach that Mauk "hadn't made up his mind." About half an hour later, Mauk's hand-delivered resignation letter showed up in supervisors' offices on the fifth floor of the Hall of Administration.

Rather than accepting it, Norby and Moorlach raced down a back stairwell that leads directly to Mauk's office and asked him to reconsider. Mauk refused to budge, and even helped the two men develop a short list of candidates to replace him.

But by 1 p.m., a third supervisor, Bill Campbell, had talked Mauk into giving it a second thought, relying on the arguments about L.A. County's management structure and his retirement on the horizon.

"Those resonated with him," Campbell said in an interview Wednesday.

Mauk agreed to listen to a counter-offer from the Orange County supervisors in a closed session the next morning.

Mauk was hired by Orange County in 2004 at a salary of $215,000. He declined a raise last year because he was in the middle of a union contract negotiation and thought it would be poor form. By 3:30 p.m. Monday, Mauk told Moorlach that if supervisors offered to give him that raise, that would keep him there, Moorlach said.

Supervisors went one better. Besides the 8% raise retroactive to July, they agreed to give him 4% more, retroactive to Jan. 1.

Tuesday afternoon, Mauk told Los Angeles County that he was withdrawing his acceptance, in what he acknowledged was a difficult telephone call to make.

"Los Angeles County deserved better than what I gave them," Mauk said in an interview Wednesday.

christian.berthelsen

@latimes.com

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