OC judge resigns amid controversy

OC judge resigns amid controversy

Following public backlash for his expressed views regarding the Orange County Economic Development Corporation’s (OCEDC) efforts to offer incentives and abatements to bring large business to the county, County Judge Dean Crooks tendered his resignation on March 13 in the presence of more than 100 citizens and business owners prepared to voice their support of the OCEDC and its offering of abatements and incentives for a potential Chevron Phillips facility.

Just days before, Crooks released a six-page letter to local media and on his social media page. In the letter, Crooks expressed a seeming displeasure at the efforts made by the OCEDC, headed by Jessica Hill, and the county’s fiduciary responsibility of funding 90 percent of its budget.

“Recent discussions involving how we move forward in Orange County with regards to economic development have certainly had their share of misinformation in them,” the statement begins. “When I ran for the position of county judge, I stated that I did not believe that we were getting the best deals through our system of using the Economic Development Corporation. I believed then, as I believe now, that the contributions made by the county taxpayer … are out of proportion compared to the other members of the OCEDC. I agree that as the county entity, our contribution should be greater than other members but to be responsible for over 90 percent of the total funds the EDC takes in … seems excessive. Particularly for county residents that have seen no personal return on their (tax) investment.”

Along with discrediting the efforts of the OCEDC, particularly when it comes to negotiating deals that include tax abatements and other incentives as is currently underway with the refining company, Crooks stated he believes the government’s role in building the economy and enticing new business should not be based on such incentives as it relates to tax breaks. He believes, instead, that the government should create a stable infrastructure for which business can build.

“This is done by all those (admittedly boring) things listed above: fixing our drainage and roads, repairing the county infrastructure like buildings and vehicles, and promoting a professional and dedicated county workforce to serve the citizens that live and work here,” reads Crooks’ statement. “However, these things ... cost money, tax money. It does not mean that there isn’t a place for incentives. I believe that there is a place and need for incentives and abatements if they are used with the best interests of Orange County in mind.”

Though not ever mentioning specifically the deal sought with Chevron, Crooks wrote, “Orange County has a great deal to offer any business that wants to open its doors here. We must strive to strike deals with those businesses based on that. To truly be partners however, we must be willing to step away from a deal that is not good for our county and our people. We must not be afraid to say ‘no’ when the situation calls for it. We must be willing to get up from the table when we are simply too far apart on a deal. If we aren’t willing to do so, we aren’t negotiating at all, we are merely waiting to hear the other side’s terms.”

Following the release of the statement, Crooks immediately faced online backlash and incited business men and women to take action. Orange business leaders came together on Monday, March 11, to strategize an approach to voice their concerns to the county judge.

“That meeting was very successful,” said Brad Childs, local business owner and Orange city councilman. “We had a meeting of about 100 businesses. We were all prepared to speak … We want this client to be here. We just wanted to offer, you know, if you’re voted in by the constituents, you should do what they say and not what you want to do personally. And that’s where it seemed (Crooks) was trying to go with his own personal ideas.”

While the countless business owners were ready with speeches in hand, Crooks called the meeting to order and instead began the meeting by unexpectedly offering his resignation much to the astonishment of the crowd gathered. In his resignation statement that comes just three months after being sworn to serve as elected county judge, Crooks said he fully supports Orange County, its future developments and the county’s ability to survive adversity, however, he said, “What I do not believe we can survive is internal strife and attacks on each other.”

Crooks finished his prepared statement by saying, “I would never stand in the way of progress for Orange County, nor do anything that might be perceived that way. Therefore, in order to stop this internal fighting so that we may ensure the proper representation of the people and do what seems best for Orange County, I will resign my position as Orange County judge, effective March 19, 2019, during the next scheduled session of this court.”

Crooks then recessed the meeting and quietly left the building to the applause of the many gathered.

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