Extended Performance Evaluation Represents No Threat To Devereaux’s Tenure

(February 4) Greg Devereaux’s tenure as San Bernardino County’s chief executive officer appears to be safe despite the indefinite continuation of this annual performance review last week.
On January 29, the board of supervisors held a specially scheduled closed session meeting, with the sole agendized issue being the board’s evaluation of Devereaux’s performance.
No action was reported out of that closed session, which was agendized by newly selected board chairman James Ramos, the county’s Third District supervisor.
The Sentinel has learned that the evaluation has been continued to a meeting date that has yet to be determined but which is anticipated within the next two months.
The lack of a report of action at the January 29 session prompted speculation that Devereaux, who was appointed to the newly created position of county chief executive officer to succeed the county’s former top executive, Mark Uffer, who carried the title of county administrative officer, was on his way out.
That speculation flew in the face of previous indications and conventional wisdom. Upon his hiring in January 2010, Devereaux was given, in addition to the enhanced title of county chief executive officer, a measure of job security heretofore unheard of in that his contract stipulated that he could not be terminated on a simple 3-2 vote as was the case with all of those who had served as county administrative officer. Rather four votes of the board were needed to fire him.
In addition to that level of job security, the currently composed board and those that preceded it have deferred to Devereaux in nearly all particulars pertaining to county governance. The entire county budget is essentially a document Devereaux works up with assistance from the county’s various department heads. He is essentially unfettered in giving direction to the county’s lower echelons with regard to policy and operations. Whereas under previous county administrative officers, board members would have direct dealings with department heads and were free to take up with each of the county’s divisions specific issues or complaints lodged by the supervisors’ constituents, any hashing out or ironing out of constituent problems now go through Devereaux and board members are no longer at liberty to talk to department heads. This is seen as both a sign of Devereaux’s domination of the governmental machinery and the degree to which the supervisors want to be disengaged from the nuts and bolts running of the county.
On May 7, 2013, the board of supervisors extended Devereaux’s contract as chief executive offcer to March 2017. Yearly performance evaluations, however, are a routine element of the relationship between the board and the top administrator and they present the only point at which the board’s members have any leverage over the CEO.
Because the call for the evaluation originated with Ramos and was encouraged by First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood, it would appear that the issue that might be under examination is the board’s loss of its discretionary spending, a move championed by Devereaux as a cost cutting measure to balance the county’s budget. Previously, each supervisor was given a $450,000 allowance to spend as he or she deemed fit within her own district without having to obtain full board approval on those appropriations. In some of the districts, that money was not fully spent. But in both the First and Third districts, which have the most unincorporated county territory of the county’s five districts, that money has been traditionally spent to provide services to residents who do not live in incorporated municipalities. The Second, Fourth and Fifth districts cover ground that has been largely annexed by cities, which provide their own level of services to their residents. For that reason, Ramos and Lovingood may be intent on having the discretionary finding formerly allotted to supervisors restored, as that would give them the opportunity to provide a modicum of services to their constituents without having to get the approval of Devereaux or their board colleagues.
To a certain extent, Devereaux’s dominating methods may have rubbed some the wrong way, in particular some of the more outspoken or aggressive members of the county’s employee unions. Devereaux sought and achieved from all of the county’s union’s contract concessions that he claimed were necessary to balance the county’s budget. In his role as negotiator, Devereaux was essentially serving the board members, who did not themselves want to assume the role of being hard nosed with the unions, who have proven to be major source of campaign donations to county elected officials in the last decade, rivaling or outrunning the development community, which was paralyzed by the foundering economy. Despite some grumbling from a relative few of their members, the county’s employee unions are not pressuring the members of the board of supervisors with regard to pay and benefits policy. Thus, the board does not need to nudge or force Devereaux to change his approach. The last time the county’s employee unions felt the need to make an example of a member of the board of supervisors was in 2000, when they rallied behind Bill Postmus in his move to oust incumbent supervisor Kathy Davis. That ploy indeed succeeded and the unions derived some degree of benefit from it. Nevertheless, Postmus would eventually crash and burn, admitting to political corruption that included 14 counts of bribe taking, conflict of interest, conspiracy, perjury and related crimes pertaining to his term as supervisor. For that reason and others, the unions do not have the will to utilize heavy handed political tactics to influence members of the board, who in any case, are highly dependent upon Devereaux for running the county.
Technically, Devereaux’s security vis-a-vis the 4-1 requirement to terminate him may not be ironclad. While his contract does contain that requirement, that contract was ratified by the board in early 2010, which was then composed of Neil Derry, Josie Gonzales, Paul Biane, Gary Ovitt, and Brad Mitzelfelt. Four fifths of the board has now left, so that only Gonzales remains. According to the California Constitutions and the county charter, a board cannot by its actions restrict the action of a future board. It would thus appear the board has the authority, if it were to so choose, to cashier Devereaux on a 3-2 vote. In that event he could sue the county and he would most likely be due the balance of his contract, but he could most likely be forced to depart as CEO if such a vote were taken.
That point is moot, however, since the will to remove him is not present.
What seems most likely is that at the January 29 meeting, board members may have sought information from Devereaux which he was not then prepared to provide and the game plan now is to allow him to return at a later date to tie up whatever loose ends remain with regard to restoring the supervisors’ discretionary spending authority or whatever issue they are currently interested in. At that point, his evaluation, for the current year, will have been concluded.

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