County assessor John Noguez has said will take a paid leave of absence while… (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times )
A longtime Los Angeles County employee who now is the director of beaches and harbors was nominated Tuesday to temporarily run the beleaguered assessor's office.
John Noguez, who was elected assessor in 2010, announced this month that he will take a paid leave of absence while county prosecutors investigate whether he and his top aides illegally lowered property taxes for wealthy property owners and contributors to his campaign.
County supervisors asked Chief Executive William T Fujioka last week to suggest people who could fill the empty chief deputy assessor position and oversee the office.
Fujioka picked Santos Kreimann, who has worked for the county for more than 20 years, including jobs in the treasurer and tax collector's offices. Kreimann was appointed director of beaches and harbors in 2009.
Fujioka said Kreimann has a strong background in real estate and "very strong, to the point of exceptional, management skills."
County supervisors will vote on Fujioka's recommendation next week. Kreimann's potential salary and start date would have to be approved by supervisors. He salary was $182,000 last year, according to county records.
Noguez's leave will begin once supervisors approve his successor, and he will continue to be paid. Noguez's salary in 2011 was $192,000.
Under state law, elected officials are entitled to their pay regardless of whether they show up for work. Noguez's salary could be withheld only if he "ceases to discharge his duties for a period of three consecutive months," said county attorney Albert Ramseyer.
Even then, if Noguez could show a medical excuse or prove that he spent some of the time away performing county business, he would still be entitled to the money.
Noguez could be removed from office only by another vote of the people — in a recall, for example — or if he were convicted of a felony. Conviction on a lesser charge could also force him out if the offense were linked to his official duties.
Even though it is standard practice for employees on leave to continue drawing their salary, political observers said Noguez's move could doom his political future.
"From a strictly political standpoint, it's suicide," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "In the court of law he's innocent until proven guilty and therefore may be entitled to that salary, but the court of public opinion is not nearly as forgiving."