Mono County Administrator Jim Arkens accepted a job as the Sutter County Administrator on Tuesday, Jan. 8.
He sent the Times a letter of resignation (directed toward the Mono County Board of Supervisors members) on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 9.
Arkens did not attend the Jan. 8 Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting, where three new supervisors, Tim Alpers, Fred Stump and Tim Fesko were sworn in.
The news that Arkens was leaving was a surprise to all of the county supervisors last Friday, Jan. 4, when the Times found out that Arkens was on the agenda of another county (Sutter County) in order to be offered the top administrative position in the county.
According to District 3 Supervisor Tim Alpers Wednesday, the board will probably appoint someone to the post as an interim CAO, until a permanent CAO can be found. He said the issue will probably be on the agenda for next week's regular board of supervisors meeting on Jan. 15. The board is also currently searching for a new finance director for the county, after former Finance Director Brian Muir left the county at the end of December for a post in Shasta County.
Longtime Mono County Supervisor Byng Hunt weighed in on the Arkens issue Wednesday.
"Jim has served our County well during very tough economic times." he said in an email. "It is never an easy task managing people and services during economic downturns such as we have recently experienced. Jim’s personality did not mesh well with some folks, but he did what he had to do in order to keep the county operating efficiently. I was personally hoping that he would work with our new board over the next few months in a search for new relationships, but I understand his desire for new challenges. I wish him well in his new position in Sutter County, and now our new Board will embark on the search for new leadership in both the CAO and Finance Director offices. I am strongly optimistic about the potential of our new Board of Supervisors in establishing new leadership that will benefit and enhance our future."
Arkens originally responded to a request for comment last Friday, Jan. 4, by saying, “I cannot comment at this time.”
He later emailed a comment to the Mammoth Times stating he would “send something Tuesday night,” but as of Wednesday, Jan. 9, the Times had not heard back from Arkens.
As noted above, the Mono County Supervisors that returned the Times request for comment last Friday were surprised.
Supervisor-Elect Tim Fesko said he did not know anything about the issue when contacted by the Times on the morning of Jan. 4.
“It’s kind of like a blank slate at this point,” he said. “I guess I was looking forward to being able to work with Jim,” he said. “Anything said in the past, to me, is water under the bridge (Fesko has been critical in the past of how the county is managed). I was hoping he would give the new board a chance. But it does sadden me that this was done as quietly as he has. For all intents and purposes, I am the new District 4 Supervisor (Fesko will be sworn in on Jan. 8) and for us not to have heard about this, this far along, that saddens me. It shows me there is not a good working relationship, even with the existing board. But we will prevail. We always do. I look forward to moving the county forward with the board.”
Supervisor Larry Johnston, who has served on the board for the past several years and will serve two more years before being up for re-election, was also surprised.
“I just found out this afternoon that he was getting a job in Sutter County,” he said. “I suppose there is always that option that someone is looking. But my feeling is he was pretty stable here. I was hoping he would stay and work with the new board and see where that led. But maybe this is greener grass for him.”
No more information was available about the offer by Sutter County on the county’s agenda item, but a reporter with the local newspaper, Ben van der Meer, told the Times that Arkens will be offered a contract for three years, with a salary of $185,000, with the contract to be reviewed annually. He will also be offered $4,000 in moving expenses.
“He was one person we thought we could get along with who would also work with the rest of our people,” said Sutter County board chair Larry Munger, as quoted in a Jan. 4 article by van der Meer. “We thought he’d be a good fit with the staff.”
Arkens came to Mono County in 2010 as the county’s human resource offer and was tapped for the Mono County CAO job in June 2011, when then-CAO Dave Wilbrecht took a job with the Town of Mammoth Lakes as town manager.
Arkens wore many hats during the time he was the Mono County CAO, including human resource officer, public works director and more, in an effort by the county to streamline and save money.
Arkens' background before working for Mono County was varied. According to a June 22, 2011 Times story, “Arkens has served at Holy Cross Hospital in Taos, New Mexico as Human Resources Director. He has also served as a CAO/Human Resources Director for Shawano County, Wisconsin and has more than 30 years total experience in government and administrative jobs.”
Arkens presided over a significant number of employee retirements, turnover in staffing, and resignations in Mono County, including the assessor, assistant assessor, the solid waste director, and several staff from probation, engineering and other departments. Both the county’s district attorney and its sheriff retired this past year, in the middle of their respective terms.
The turnover rate has been attributed by county officials as being inevitable as the county downsizes and seeks to become more cost-efficient, but there has also been criticism that it may be more than that, including from Fesko, who stated in a Dec. 28 Times article that “morale (in Mono County) was at an all time low."
For more on this story, go to Sutter County’s newspaper, the Appeal Democrat at http://www.appeal-democrat.com/news/arkens-122432-county-new.html