County supervisors unanimously appointed two consultants as interim directors of the Resource Management Agency at Tuesday’s meeting, and it left local union representatives showing unease.
Larry Perlin and James Walgren of 4Leaf, Inc., a Pleasanton-based engineering consulting firm, will serve as co-interim directors while the county finds a permanent replacement.
Resource Management Director Brent Barnes resigned last week. As director, he oversaw multiple departments including the planning and building inspections division; public works and facilities; park operations; housing economic development, and more.
Barnes’ resignation came at a critical time for the county, as the Resource Management Agency has been restructuring over the last couple months. Barnes was the first employee to hold the position and came from the outside.
On March 22, the County Administrative Office executed a $10,000 contract with 4Leaf, Inc. for interim professional services, the staff report stated. Contract costs are estimated at a 40-hour work week, divided between the two consultants, billed at $195 an hour.
Management Analyst Louie Valdez introduced Perlin and Walgren during the meeting.
“Both come with about 30 years experience individually in engineering and in planning,” Valdez said. “We wanted to introduce them to the board, let you know who they were. If they’d like to come up and say a few words to address the board and ask you to approve the contract so that we can proceed with the transition.”
Walgren spoke first.
“This is our second week now with the county,” Walgren said. “We’re starting to understand what the issues are.”
Walgren explained his background in city planning and said Perlin’s background is in civil engineering.
“Each of us have managed community development departments that include planning, building, engineering, capital services,” he said. “We have decades of experience in that area. My last role was also as assistant city manager for the City of Los Altos and Larry is also a former city manager.”
Perlin referred to his new job as an interesting and challenging assignment.
“We bring collectively the requisite skill set and experience that’s needed at the (Resource Management Agency),” Perlin said.
Not everyone was happy with the appointment.
Service Employee International Union Local 521 Regional Director Deborah Narvaez spoke during public comment and said the union opposed the item.
“This item is an extreme cost to the county that creates an increased cost to taxpayers without a well-thought-out plan,” Narvaez said. “The county initially decided over a year ago to combine both the planning, building and public works departments in order to achieve salary savings and hire more frontline staff. Yet that did not occur. Now it’s coming before you to approve two positions at $195 an hour through a contract with a private entity as a result of the failed management and oversight of this department. This is a waste of county taxpayer dollars. The county should be seeking innovative opportunities to create a shared service with the City of Hollister before contracting out two positions at an exorbitant amount for non-county employees.”
Narvaez pointed out that the county hired a human resources consultant four years ago who’s still with the county.
“This now seems to be a pattern of us continuing long-term contracting out entities instead of hiring public workers that are from this county and invested in this county,” she said. “Right now we have a lot of needs. The storm has caused a lot of problems and we need frontline staff that’s going to come in and actually do the work, not sit in an office and manage it. So we’re asking this board to provide some leadership and please re-look at this situation because spending $234,000 for a seven-month contract is absolutely unacceptable.”
County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa was first to defend the new hires.
“We really need to have some good leadership in there with good experience to do the transition before we hire someone else,” Espinosa said.
Supervisors sided with Espinosa.
“I think it’s imperative that we have sound management and leadership down there at the (Resource Management Agency),” Supervisor Anthony Botelho said. “It’s a big department. It’s a brand-new department as far as the organization structure. We need the experience. There’s nobody down there right now that could do it.”
Botelho said he felt the two interim directors could turn the department around.
“From my observation on both ends of the (Resource Management Agency), the processes are not there,” he said. “It needs to happen; otherwise we can’t move forward as a county and we can’t provide the pathway for success for the employees that work down there. If they don’t have leadership, they’re not going to be successful.”
Chairman Jaime De La Cruz said by this time next year the county should have a “professional management person” in place.
“I do share with Supervisor Botelho’s comments,” he said. “We need to have somebody in place because that ship is sinking right now. There’s a lot of concerns from the public that keep telling us what are we doing there. All five of us board members continue to support and defend our employees. We will continue to do that, but we need help today. We need professional help and we need to bring in this group here to help us out. Otherwise we’re going to be like sailors at sea without a compass.”