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Orange County, California

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Budget Y
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Meetings Y
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Elected Officials Y
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Administrative Officials Y
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Permits, zoning Y
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Audits Y
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Contracts P
Lobbying N
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Public records Y
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Local taxes Y
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Transparency grading process
Orange County is one of 58 counties in California. As of the 2010 census, its population was 3,010,232, up from 2,846,293 at the 2000 census, making it the third most populous county in California, behind Los Angeles County and San Diego County.[1] It is the sixth most populous county in the United States as of 2009 while at the same time is also the smallest area-wise county in Southern California

Five Orange County cities have populations exceeding 170,000. Irvine is the county's primary business hub.

Thirty-four incorporated cities are located in Orange County; the newest is Aliso Viejo, which was incorporated in 2001. Anaheim is the oldest, incorporated in 1870 when the region was part of Los Angeles County.

Website evaluation

Main article: Evaluation of California county websites

Last rated on Jan. 17, 2012

The good

  • The names and contact information for all board of supervisor members is available.[2]
  • Board of supervisor meeting agendas and minutes are published.[3]
  • The current budget is published.[4]
  • Open bids are published[5] but awarded contracts are not available.
  • Audit reports are published.[6]
  • Information on taxes is published.[7]
  • Information on building permits and zoning is available.[8]
  • Public records may be requested[9].
  • The names of all administrative officials are provided[10] and their contact information is available under the respective departments.

The bad


The county's budget and prospective budget documents are readily accessible. County supervisors approved a balanced budget for FY 2011-2012 with expenditures totaling $5.6 billion. This was an increase of 2.7% over the previous year's budget. Despite this growth, the county was able to balance the budget without dipping into the county's reserve fund, and actually add $1.7 million to the reserves. Orange County is still owed $91 million by the State of California.[11]

In 1994, Orange County became the largest county in United States history to declare bankruptcy. The county has since dedicated its vehicle license plate fees to paying off the bankruptcy debt. However, the State of California's FY 2011-2012 budget takes $48 million from the county's vehicle license plate money and dedicates it to the state's realignment plan.[12]

The County Budget Office, part of the County Executive Office, is tasked with the planning, presentation, and monitoring of the budget. The fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30 of the next year. The budget process typically begins in December.[13]


As of January, 2011, Orange County had received a grand total of $139,157,910 in federal stimulus money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. $47 million of that money is reported as direct funding, while $52 million is reported as indirect funding.[14] The county provides a breakdown of the agencies and programs that received federal stimulus funds.

Unpaid Leave

Orange County cities owed their workers $154.3 million in unused sick, vacation and other leave time, according to a review of their latest audits, which tally the tab to July 2011. The biggest bills were faced by Santa Ana, which had $40.5 million on its books; and Anaheim, with a much-smaller $19.6 million on its books.[15]

Public Employees

Elected officials

Orange County's legislative and executive authority is vested in a five-member Board of supervisors. Each Supervisor is popularly elected from a regional district, and together the board oversees the activities of the county's agencies and departments and sets policy on development, public improvements, and county services. At the beginning of each year the Supervisors select a Chairman and Vice Chairman, but the administration is headed by a professional municipal manager, the County Executive.

Supervisor District
Janet Nguyen 1
John M.W. Moorlach, Vice Chairman 2
Bill Campbell, Chairman 3
Shawn Nelson 4
Patricia C. Bates 5

Other elected officials

Other than the Board of Supervisors, there are seven officials elected to provide specialized services.

Name Title
Webster Guillory Assessor
David Sundstrom Auditor-Controller
Tom Daly (dead link) Clerk-Recorder
Tony Rackauckas District Attorney
John Williams (dead link) Public Administrator/Public Guardian
Sandra Hutchens Sheriff-Coroner
Shari Freidenrich Treasurer-Tax Collector

Administrative officials

County administrative officials are led by the County Executive Officer, in the County Executive Office.[16] There are 25 departments and agencies organized under the County Executive Officer.[17] An organizational chart can be viewed here.

Public Administrator Position

The Board of Supervisors is pushing to modifying how the Public administrator position gets filled. The Board would like to make it an appointed position rather than an elected one. The proposal comes in the wake of accusations that the current public adminstrator, John S. Williams, was negligent in handling a multimillion-dollar estate[18].

John S. Williams has also been under scrutiny for hiring practices inside the public administrator office. The Board of Supervisors ordered a human resources audit and found that the assistant public administrator, Peggi Buff, was hired and promoted without the appropriate experience. Buff, who also happens to be engaged to Orange County's District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, was appointed in 2003 and saw her salary almost double from $62,400 to $119,974 in 2010. Buff has been transferred to a separate department with fewer benefits and a reduced salary of $95,680[19].


Retirement benefits are provided for county employees through the Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS). Contributions to the system are made by both the employee and the county.[20] Employees are also eligible to participate in a 457 defined contribution retirement plan, administered by Great West Retirement Services.[21]

Moody’s Investors Service cut its rating on Orange County‘s pension obligation bonds by one notch. Each January, the county sells 18-month bonds to investors, using the proceeds to prepay a year’s worth of pension contributions to the Orange County Employee Retirement System. Moody’s said it believes pension bonds are less secure than prior estimates.[22]

Most Orange County employees are in a 2.7 percent at 55 pension plan, meaning they can retire at age 55 or later with a pension calculated at 2.7 percent of their highest annual pay for each year of service. In December 2012 the county adopted a plan with lower benefits, 1.62 percent at 65.[23] Gov. Brown’s Public Employees Pension Reform Act sets a cap of 2 percent at 62 as the most generous plan that government entities in California can offer to new non-safety employees hired after Jan. 1.[24]

Public employee salaries

Main article: Orange County employee salaries

Members of the Board of Supervisors receive a salary of $143,041 as of 2009.[25]

According to the Orange County Register, a grand jury report issued in June, 2011 concluded that "[T]he degree of transparency currently provided to the public by the County of Orange regarding compensation information is inadequate in its accessibility, content, and clarity."[26]

In June, 2010, Director of Human Resources Carl H. Crown issued a memorandum setting new guidelines for county employee salary increases. All salary increases set above the position's bottom range require a justification memo from the specific department. All salary increases of 15% or more require the approval of the Human Resources Director, the Deputy CEO, and the CEO.[27]

Santa Margarita Water District General Manager John Schatz receives a total compensation of $403,780.[28]


Main article: California government sector lobbying

Federal lobbying

Orange County spent $1,807,518 on lobbying the federal government in 2010.[29] The issues most frequently lobbied on were federal budget and appropriations, transportation, and natural resources.

State lobbying

For 2007 and 2008, Orange County and its subsidiaries spent $2,889,085 on lobbying the California legislature.[30]

Subsidiary Amount
Orange County $2,226,697
Orange County Children and Families Commission $175,393
Orange County Clerk-Recorder $75,000
Orange County Employees Retirement System $28,500
Orange County Fire Authority $165,995
Orange County Sanitation District $217,500

Transparency and public records

Public records requests are handled by the Office of the Clerk-Recorder. Request forms are available online.[31]

An Orange County grand jury concluded in June, 2011 that the county's level of transparency in matters pertaining to public employee salaries was unacceptable.


The county's Treasurer-Tax Collector collects a county property tax. Their website provides procedural information on paying county property taxes, as well as an online calculator to estimate supplemental taxes on a given property, and a timeline for property tax payments. Taxes may be paid online with no fee with a checking or savings account.[32]

External links