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San Joaquin County supervisors change method of hiring their assistants

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Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 12:21 pm | Updated: 2:47 pm, Thu Dec 13, 2012.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to change how supervisors' assistants are appointed, a move one supervisor said is an act of political retribution.

Supervisor Leroy Ornellas said the 3-1 vote is a bald political move to punish his own assisant for reporting a possible violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act involving three other supervisors.

Since 2007, each of the five supervisors was allowed to unilaterally hire his legislative assistant, who helps the supervisor and sometimes makes public appearances on his behalf.

Under the new ordinance, the hiring of each legislative assistant will be subject to a majority vote of the full Board of Supervisors. Approval by the full board was the practice prior to 2007 as well.

Ornellas, who represents the Tracy area, says the board's vote is in direct retribution toward his own legislative assistant.

"It is retaliation against Scott Tyrrell for him telling me that he saw a majority of the supervisors talking about the winery moratorium several months ago," Ornellas said after Tuesday's meeting. "He did his duty as an aide and told me."

Tyrrell said he was walking past Supervisor Ken Vogel's office in the county administration building, where he saw Vogel and Supervisors Steve Bestolarides and Larry Ruhstaller discussing a moratorium on winery expansions until a new winery ordinance is adopted.

The alleged meeting of the three supervisors would constitute a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act. The state law prohibits a majority of a local board from discussing issues that might come to the board for a vote.

Vogel, Bestolarides and Ruhstaller didn't immediately return phone calls about the Brown Act allegation Tuesday afternoon. Earlier in the day, Vogel was brief when he explained why he supported making appointments subject to a majority vote on the board.

"We all need to work together," Vogel said. "That's my only comment."

Bestolarides said during Tuesday's meeting that the revised ordinance is consistent with the appointment of commissioners, and he wants the appointments of legislative assistants to be "transparent and open."

Ornellas will step down as a county supervisor on Jan. 7, 2013 due to term limits, but his successor, Bob Elliott of Tracy, is considering Tyrrell to become his own assistant once Elliott is sworn in to office on Jan. 7.

Applications are being accepted until today for the legislative assistant position in Elliott's District 5, which serves southern San Joaquin County.

After Tyrrell told Ornellas about the allegedly improper meeting in May, Ornellas said he discussed the issue with vineyard owner Dave Pechan. Pechan then contacted the county District Attorney's Office about the Brown Act allegation, according to an email from Pechan dated May 20 to all five members of the Board of Supervisors.

There was no answer at the D.A.'s office on Tuesday afternoon, and there was no voicemail in which to leave a phone message.

"I think there is concerted effort (by some supervisors) for Bob Elliott to not appoint Scott," Ornellas said.

Tyrrell said, "I just do my job here. I wasn't looking for any controversy."

Tyrell declined to publicly discuss the issue further. "I think Leroy covered it pretty well," he said.

Legislative assistant salaries range from $68,845 to $75,893 per year.

Ornellas voted against adopting the ordinance, and Supervisor Carlos Villapudua was absent from Tuesday's meeting.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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