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Chief administrative officer of O.C. when it declared bankruptcy dies

April 15, 2013|From The Los Angeles Times

Ernie Schneider, the chief administrative officer of Orange County when it declared bankruptcy in 1994 because of its disastrous investment practices, died Saturday at his home in San Juan Capistrano. He was 66.

His death, related to liver and kidney problems, was confirmed by former wife and current Laguna Beach City Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson.

A longtime public servant, Schneider was the top appointed officer when Treasurer Robert L. Citron was discovered to have lost $1.64 billion in the value of the county's investment portfolio. Schneider was fired in the tumultuous time after the bankruptcy for not urging the Board of Supervisors to look into warnings about Citron and his convoluted investment strategies.

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The dismissal haunted Schneider for the rest of his life.

"Ernie never really recovered from the bankruptcy," said Pat Sudds, his 81-year-old former secretary. "He felt he was a scapegoat for things that others did. He spent the rest of his life trying to serve the people again. Unfortunately, that didn't happen."

Schneider was born in Bad-Kissingen, West Germany, on Christmas Day 1946. His father served in North Africa during World War II under the leadership of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

Schneider lived in Vienna until 1952, when his family moved to the United States. Known to be a fitness fanatic with a penchant for surfing, he attended Cal State Fullerton and earned a bachelor's in political science and a master's in public administration.

He first worked as a systems analyst in Orange County's Flood Control District and eventually became executive assistant to the department head, H. George Osborne. He was later named chief executive assistant for then-county Supervisor Bruce Nestande, concentrating on land-use issues.

At 39, Schneider leapfrogged over four older rivals to become head of the Environmental Management Agency, one of the most powerful bureaucracies because it brought flood control, harbors, beaches and parks, roads and housing, and community development under the control of a single agency.

Daniel T. Miller, a former colleague who is now a senior vice president at the Irvine Co., remembers Schneider's tireless work ethic.

"This was not a guy who screwed around," he said of Schneider, who often began his day at 7 a.m. "The public sector was his life and he was always driving for the top position."

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