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Late Tuesday afternoon the Orange County Board of Supervisors finished a lengthy discussion at the Supervisors’ public meeting on whether to hire Santa Barbara CEO Chandra Wallar to fill Orange County’s vacant CEO position. The position became vacant after Tom Mauk was forced out of the job after an almost 9-year run.
The reasons for Mauk’s departure last year are not totally clear, but are at least partly attributed to the sexually charged atmosphere that was found to exist in the County Public Works Department. That situation resulted in the termination of the Public Works Director last year, and the arrest and pending prosecution of an Assistant Public Works Director. Some veteran county employees also believe that a reason for Mauk’s departure was that the Supervisors themselves are a very difficult, and behind the scenes often divided, governing body to work for.
At today’s meeting of the Supervisors that division became quite apparent, though the group remained cordial with each other – at least in public. The discussion which went on for about an hour afforded each Supervisor the opportunity to expound on their views about executive compensation, retirement and other benefits, double-dipping, severance packages, and other hot button issues. At one point Supervisor Nguyen correctly pointed out that a couple of the constraints being advocated by Board members in the discussion were not in sync with the recruitment announcement for the CEO job. Specifically, that the sentiment expressed by some Board members that no one who is currently drawing a public sector pension would be considered because they are double dippers and that’s bad, and that the announcement said the salary was open but Board members today were saying they did not want to pay more than the departed CEO Tom Mauk was making (a salary of approx. $ 256,000/yr.)
Finally, a straw vote was taken on Ms. Wallar, without addressing pay. The Board voted 5-0 that she was the preferred candidate. But, when it came time to deal with the compensation package requested by Ms. Wallar the Board was all over the map, and in the end indecisive. The two-member committee that had been appointed to handle the CEO recruitment, Supervisors Nguyen and Bates, were informally told to go back to Ms. Wallar to further discuss compensation and other considerations such as a relocation allowance, annual vacation buyout, pension cost contribution, and other factors. This even though Supervisor Spitzer said he had a discussion with Ms. Wallar over the weekend and that she made it clear that if the Supervisors only offered Mauk’s previous salary there would be no deal and that she wanted closure this week, one way or the other.
It was stated that the Supervisors will not meet again for three weeks. Given Ms. Wallar’s alleged statement that she wants closure now, not later, it would seem that the Supervisors have most likely lost their top candidate.
So much for executive leadership from the Board of Supervisors. Political philosophies interjected into a previously approved recruitment process have muddied the waters of the months-long CEO recruitment process. Will these same issues be raised with the selection of a Clerk-Recorder (particularly that no candidate who is drawing a public sector retirement will be considered) or Auditor-Controller or Public Guardian/Administrator?
As the unwillingness of the Board of Supervisors to recognize the dynamics of the labor market and willingness to interject political philosophies into the recruitment and selection of candidates for key executive level positions becomes more widely known by public discussion as occurred today at the Supervisors meeting, how many qualified, capable and eager candidates are out there who want to work for a Board like this?
Perhaps the field of applicants is being whittled down to political cronies right before our eyes. Could that be the real agenda?