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‘We are back at square one,’ says Supervisor Byng Hunt
Mono County is facing more upheaval this week after another top county official announced she would leave Feb. 5 and an interim County Administrative Officer (CAO) candidate pulled out at the last minute.
The announcement that risk manager and facilities manager Rita Sherman would retire came through an email to the county supervisors Wednesday, Jan. 23, according to District 1 Supervisor Larry Johnston—one day after the board of supervisors held the last of three meetings for the month.
Sherman’s retirement brings the number of high-level county administrators that would leave—or have already left—Mono County in the past month and a half to three.
CAO Jim Arkens’ last day is Feb. 3 and former Finance Director Brian Muir resigned at the end of December to take a job in Shasta County.
Sherman has been with Mono County for many years as its risk management director. She also served as the manager for the county’s facilities department, which was once under the supervision of the public works director, a position the county eliminated years ago.
The same week Sherman announced her retirement, county supervisors were prepared to sign an $81,384, four-month interim CAO contract for former (and now retired) Mono County Administrative Officer Marlin Koester—a contract that would have been in place until a permanent CAO can be found.
The county supervisors offered Koester the short-term interim administrator job and were set to vote on the contract Tuesday, when they found out Koester declined the offer for personal reasons.
“He apologized for such a late notice,” said the board of supervisors chair Byng Hunt, who had served with Koester when he was the CAO in the years before Dave Wilbrecht took the job.
Koester’s decision leaves the county “back at square one,” Hunt said.
What happens now?
“We are embarking on a three-fold strategy,” said Hunt. “We are going to assign an undesignated current employee to act as an ‘interim-interim’ CAO, then contact a pool of available, retired CAOs to pick an interim CAO who will help us in our search for a permanent CAO, and then open up a major recruitment for the finalist for the permanent position.”
Hunt said the process of finding a final CAO “will generate out of closed session discussions, and public announcements will be forthcoming as developments emerge, (but it is) too early to give specifics at this moment.”
“I would expect a two to three month process to gain a new administrator,” he said.
Hiring a new risk manager and county finance director are two different processes, Johnston said.
The board hires only three positions directly—CAO, director of finance, and county counsel. Normally, the CAO hires everyone else, including the risk manager. But without a CAO, or even an interim CAO at this point, that might have to wait.
All the changes at the county make the time ripe for a discussion about county reorganization—and sooner than later, Johnston said.
“This lends itself to that opportunity,” he said. “Maybe there are positions that are superfluous, maybe we have qualified staff that can fill them. We are always trying to be more efficient. Maybe there are additional ways we can do that.”
Newly elected supervisor District 3 Tim Alpers agreed, but added a note of caution. He was a Mono County supervisor many years ago and he said the first priority is to establish concrete job descriptions outlining who is responsible for what—and then make sure candidates are qualified to hold the job.
“It might look like you are saving money in the short term, but it can backfire if something goes wrong and someone sues,” he said.