Two more high level employees leave county government

There has been another high-level resignation in Mono County as of last week.

This time it was County Assessor Jody Henning, who announced her resignation in a letter to the county Board of Supervisors, effective at the end of June. Henning’s office is an elected position.
Henning’s assistant assessor, Chris Lyons, also announced his resignation at the same time. Lyons’ position is not an elected position.

“It is both Chris Lyon and my desire to work in a more professional, secure environment where we are respected for the combined 60 years of experience we bring to table,” Henning wrote in an email this week. “In the four years that I have been here, we have made huge progress in the services we provide. But, with that said, there is still a long way to go and my greatest fear is that past practices and policies will rear their ugly heads. An assessor’s office works closely with other county departments, and when I stumbled upon practices that I didn’t feel were in the best interest of the public and interfered with me doing my job, I voiced my concerns. Ultimately, this proved to make progress very difficult.”

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the board agreed to begin the process of filling the assistant assessor position. The board will take up the issue of filling the assessor’s position at next week’s board meeting. Since the assessor’s office is an elected position, a replacement must either be appointed by the board or a special election must be held to fill the position.

The two resignations come on the heels of a recent department head resignation a few weeks ago—that of Matt Carter from the head of the county’s solid waste department. Carter left to take on a CEO position with a firm he has investments in, according to county sources. Previous to that, another department head, Kelley Garcia, of engineering, resigned in 2011.

These resignations have all occurred within the last 12 months.

It’s enough to raise the question, “What’s going on in Mono County?” It’s nothing unusual according to County Administrative Officer Jim Arkens, who has held the position after Dave Wilbrecht left for his current job as the Mammoth Lakes Town Manager.

“I had nothing to do with Jody’s leaving—it’s an elected position—nor Chris’,” he said Monday. “I believe they both left to pursue professional opportunities.”

He said he might have been instrumental in Garcia’s leaving, as he didn’t believe her performance was up to his standards. Otherwise, he doesn’t see the resignations as a part of a greater pattern. The county is going through a time of great transition and in such times, he said, resignations are not uncommon.

But his explanation might not persuade everyone. Rumbles of troubles at the highest levels in the county government have refused to die, especially after a series of high-profile fights over at-will employee contracts and union employee compensation packages that took center stage earlier this winter.

Supervisor Larry Johnston challenged a series of contracts for at-will department heads at the time, including newly consolidated positions that had been created and spearheaded by Arkens to streamline the county government. Arkens and most of the supervisors supported giving the employees who took on the extra work salaries as high as $120,000 (not including benefits), stating that the extra work justified the high salaries.

The board also said the county was saving money by consolidating the positions—as much as $1.2 million—even with the increases in the salaries for the consolidated positions.

Although Johnston found little support on the board at the time, Tuesday’s election will likely change that. Both Fred Stump and Tim Alpers have been critical of the way the contracts were dealt with and how other at-will county employee contracts were dealt with, and both promised a tighter fiscal policy and more scrutiny of all county expenditures.