Leaders of Orange County's largest labor union are calling for the reassignment of the county's chief operating officer, who they say can't objectively oversee a department recently moved under his purview.

Chief Operating Officer Mark Denny, who pleaded guilty to an election fraud charge in 1996, was recently given authority over Orange County's Registrar of Voters — the department tasked with administering elections.

That, Orange County Employees Assn. General Manager Nick Berardino wrote in an email to supervisors this week, "demonstrates a clear disregard of the sanctity of the precious American privilege of the vote."

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OCEA is locked in a series of heated contract negotiations with the county. The union also represents city employees in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

County Supervisor John Moorlach said Tuesday that he saw the situation as a dead issue being raised as part of an "old school" labor negotiating strategy.

Denny, he recalled, was a "sweet, bright kid" who was swept up "in something really bizarre."

The misdemeanor charge at issue stemmed from Denny's involvement in a Republican Party scheme to manipulate the ballot in an Assembly race by circulating nominating petitions for a decoy Democratic candidate.

At the time, Denny, then 27, was working as an aide to then-Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle. He resigned his post and was sentenced to three years' probation, along with community service and a fine, according to reports from the time.

Denny was also barred from participating in campaign work during his probation.

County spokeswoman Jean Pasco wrote in an email that Denny later served as former Supervisor Bill Campbell's chief of staff. Then in 2008, he was hired as director of the county's parks department.

The position of chief operating officer was created during a restructuring of the county's chief executive office under Chief Executive Mike Giancola, who was appointed in May.

Previously, the duties of the COO were spread out among several assistants or deputies, who helped manage the county's numerous smaller departments, such as its healthcare agency, according to Pasco.

She said Tuesday that the person in the job functions more as a liaison between those departments and the overarching county government than as a manager.

Giancola said in a statement that he knew of Denny's background when he hired him for the job in June and stands by the choice.

"I have full confidence in my chief operating officer," he said, adding that Denny's "doing a great job for the county."

Denny declined to comment Tuesday.