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Supervisorial candidates spar at Feet to the Fire forum

They talk pensions and disagree over who best knows the county, issues.

April 29, 2014|By Jill Cowan
  • Orange County Supervisor District 2 candidate Michelle Steele defends her position as she participates in the Feet to the Fire Forum on Monday.
Orange County Supervisor District 2 candidate Michelle… (Don Leach, Daily…)

Candidates for the Orange County Board of Supervisors' 2nd District seat sparred over pensions, problem-solving and their community ties Monday night in a debate that took on something of a wonkish tone.

The four are vying to replace Supervisor John Moorlach, who will be termed out next year.

About 160 community members gathered at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center for the seventh Feet to the Fire forum, where candidates for local or regional office meet with a panel of journalists in an informal TV talk show-style discussion.

Moderator and columnist Barbara Venezia, sporting her signature scarlet leather vest and pants ensemble decorated with yellow flames, prodded the debate along at a steady clip.

But it was the first question of the night that may have set its course.

If elected, Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis asked, "Would you be willing to forego your pension?"

Supervisors can opt out of taking a public employee pension — a symbolic move, given the tense climate surrounding the board's contract negotiations with county employee unions.

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Candidate Michelle Steel, a Republican state Board of Equalization member who leads the pack in fundraising by a wide margin, answered in one word: "Yes."

Republican Huntington Beach Councilman and former mayor Joe Carchio, likewise, said yes without hesitation, adding that he hasn't taken a pension in his city role and wouldn't start now.

Jim Moreno, a Democratic Coast Community College District trustee who worked as a deputy to a Los Angeles County supervisor for years, said he would accept the pension but use it to provide grants to nonprofits.

"I would accumulate that and put it back into the community," he said.

Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) said that he would "probably" take the pension.

"I don't have a home in (Rancho) Palos Verdes and Orange County," he said, apparently jabbing at Steel. "I'm not independently wealthy."

Mansoor specified that he would take "the lesser" pension. However, in June 2012, voters approved a measure that requires all supervisors elected from that point forward to take the smallest pension available, if they decide to take one at all.

From there, the candidates launched into a discussion about unfunded pension liabilities and government waste.

All four agreed that government tends to overspend and that with careful analysis, those sources of waste could be uncovered.

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