COSTA MESA — It's no surprise that any move made by city leaders can get people talking — and worrying.
When Costa Mesa CEO Tom Hatch named Rick Francis as his new assistant CEO, starting in early January, many wanted to know why he would leave his job as chief of staff for Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach.
Others wanted to know how his work with the county would translate to city government. And a few even wondered about his time as a pastor for Newport Mesa Church in Costa Mesa.
Francis, 49, said he left the supervisor's office because there was always an end date to the job because of term limits. As for being a pastor, well, that was a need he filled temporarily for his church when the senior pastor changed.
And in response to worries that his move is a sign that Moorlach, a fiscal conservative who has championed pension reform, is planning to become more involved in Costa Mesa — or that the majority leadership on the City Council are looking for a Moorlach clone to do their bidding — Francis said that's just not going to happen.
"A lot of people think there is a grand conspiracy," he said. "The supervisor and I agree on a whole lot of issues, but I'm my own person."
He said his move to Costa Mesa has nothing to do with Moorlach and that his role in that office and his role at City Hall are very different.
"I'm not going there to be a John Moorlach junior," he said.
Hatch said he found him to be his own man.
"I got to know him over the month or so of interviewing — if anyone has any questions they should meet with him and talk to him," Hatch said.
He added that the 20-year resident is "excited and cares for Costa Mesa."
On the hot-button issues of outsourcing and considering changing to a charter city, Francis would rather wait before getting into those details. But he said in general a charter city gives the city and the council much more local governance — which, he added, is a good thing.
He said outsourcing is a complicated issue that works well in some cases, but is not always the best option.
"People are concerned, and I understand why they are concerned," he said.
He said the issue affects real people who are worried about their jobs, but also people who depend on the city to have enough money to maintain programs on which they depend.
"The city has a responsibility to explore it, and the City Council has to weigh all these things," he said.
Hatch said the work Francis has done with the supervisor's office, as well as the rest of his professional background, has prepared him for his duties.
"His 15 years of experience in law enforcement/probation and with other public agencies is important," he said.
Francis worked in the county probation department for 14 years and was division director when he left.
"He gets the best out of employees while holding them accountable," Hatch said.
Francis said his job in the supervisor's office included much work with unincorporated areas like Rossmoor and Sunset Beach, before the latter became part of Huntington Beach.
"Rossmoor has 11,000 people," Francis said. "It's like a small city had has all the municipal issues. A lot of skills will transfer to city government."
The president of the Sunset Beach Community Assn., Mike Van Vorhis, worked with Francis when the community was unincorporated and was going through the process of becoming part of Huntington Beach; he said he is sad to see Francis go.
Van Vorhis said they didn't have council members to go to when they needed something done, so they would go to the supervisor's office.
"We were fortunate that Rick wasn't just chief of staff, but that he was in charge of Sunset Beach," Van Vorhis said.
He gave the example of when the Orange County Fire Authority closed the community's volunteer fire department. He said Francis helped them buy the building and make it part of the community center.
"I hope to bring my years of experience in government," Francis said. "I hope to be someone who can offer inspiration to people to get the job done. That's what I was hired to do and that's what I'm good at."
Hatch already has plans for Francis' skills. He said along with the everyday task of managing the overload of work and helping others get their jobs done, Francis will lead the new Quality of Life Task Force, which that will include one or two representatives from every department.
Francis will join the city in early January.
As for Francis' wife and three college-age children, he said they are positive about the change.
"They think this it's a cool thing. Taking a job this close to home, hopefully I'll be able to be home a little more," he said. "They seem excited so far."