County Looks Within In Choosing New Chief Executive

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors this week elected to elevate a 23-year county employee who served much of that time in a management capacity to the position of county chief executive officer.
Gary McBride, the county’s chief financial officer whose function over the last four years has rendered him the most comprehensively knowledgeable individual with regard to the county’s budgetary situation, outdistanced more than 20 other candidates who were given at least a second look from among the several dozen individuals who applied for the job. Those applications came in after Greg Devereaux, the first chief executive officer in the county’s 164-year history who held the post since it was specially created for him in 2010, in January announced his intention to retire in April. Since April, Devereaux’s post has been filled on a temporary basis by Dena Smith, who over the previous eight years had made a mercurial rise from her position as clerk of the board of supervisors. Smith was appointed in September 2009 to the position of director of land use services, and then was advanced by Devereaux to become deputy administrative officer in July 2010. She was later made Devereaux’s second-in-command as assistant chief executive officer.
There were conflicting reports as to whether Smith had applied to succeed Devereaux on more than an interim basis. In some quarters, it was widely assumed that the recruitment drive to replace Devereaux and the subsequent interview process was largely for the sake of appearances, and that Smith was a shoo-in to obtain the top county staff assignment. In June, while the board was reviewing the county’s proposed 2017-18 budget prior to its passage, Smith was put on the spot with regard to a number of line items within the budget as board members sought from her an in-depth explanation of several specific proposed expenditures. In this regard, Smith compared unfavorably with Devereaux, who had always exhibited a command of the financial circumstances of the public entities he headed, including the county’s governmental structure as well as those in Ontario and Fontana, in which municipalities he had served as city manager prior to acceding to the county chief executive officer position. Shortly after this year’s budget hearing, it was made clear that Smith was not a candidate for the CEO position.
Beginning a decade ago, with the onset of the economic downturn that segued into a full blown recession that lasted for six years, the county was hit with financial challenges brought on by diminishing tax revenues into government coffers. Devereaux had proven himself more aggressive in addressing this challenge than had his predecessor, Mark Uffer, who had the title chief administrative officer. Though it made him unpopular with the various unions representing the county’s workforce, Devereaux had pressed county employees for concessions in ongoing contract negotiations and also asked for givebacks on contracts ratified prior to the full manifestation of the recession.
Given his comprehensive understanding of the county’s financial picture, Devereaux was able to keep the county functioning as a going concern with only minimal interruptions in essential services. This was in contrast to the near implosion the county experienced in the face of the economic downturn prior to Devereaux’s arrival in January 2010. For example, Smith had been moved into the lead position with the land use services division in September 2009 as the result of a drastic reduction in construction in the county which resulted in a corresponding diminution of fees being paid to the land use services division by project applicants. That, and accounting errors in the division, created a $6 million deficit in the land use services department. The accompanying controversy resulted in a decision by Uffer, Devereaux’s predecessor, to seek and obtain from Julie Rynerson Rock, the head of the department, and assistant county administrator Norm Kanold, who was responsible for monitoring and certifying the land use services department’s budgets, agreements to retire. In the same time frame, Uffer eliminated 61 jobs in the land use services division prior to Smith taking command of that branch of county government.
The board believes that McBride, like Devereaux, because of his understanding of the budgetary process and ongoing comprehension of the county’s financial numbers together with his firmness, will be able, in both good economic times and bad, to recognize any deterioration in the county’s fiscal position and take remedial action in time to prevent a crisis either generally or in any of the county’s divisions comparable to the magnitude of what occurred with the land use services department in 2009.
“Gary’s integrity, strong financial background and experience with the county made him the stand-out candidate for chief executive officer of San Bernardino County,” said board of supervisors chairman Robert A. Lovingood. “I have trusted his advice in the past and look forward to working with him as we pursue the opportunities ahead.”
“Gary McBride has provided outstanding leadership and skillful financial management for over four years as chief financial officer for the County of San Bernardino,” said board of supervisors vice chairman Curt Hagman. “I have benefited from his wise counsel, innovative management style and commitment to accept nothing but the best from himself and all those around him. Gary will make an outstanding CEO and I look forward to working with him and my board colleagues in making San Bernardino County the best run county government in America.”
“We went through an extensively thorough process of interviewing a number of uniquely qualified individuals,” said Fifth District Supervisor Josie Gonzales. “It was through each supervisor’s individual path of discovery that my colleagues and I came together to select the individual who would best help us realize our hopes and projects to better serve our residents. It is imperative that we, as a county family, view ourselves as visionaries and a flagship for implementing new ideas. Mr. McBride embodies the kind of talent that exists within our family.”
“Gary is incredibly smart and thoughtful, and he is eager to explore new ideas,” said Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford. “He has a passion for this organization and a genuine, deep commitment to the county team that will serve him well in this new leadership role.”
“I am confident Mr. McBride, with his abundant wealth of institutional knowledge, will excel our county towards greater heights and into new horizons,” said Third District Supervisor James Ramos. “I proudly join the board of supervisors as we wish him great success and look forward to working with him to strengthen our county.”
In a general statement from the county, the board members praised McBride’s dedication to the county organization and the community, his commitment to innovation in the cause of public service, and his ability to grasp and translate into lay terms complex issues and provide sound, trustworthy advice.
The board was enthusiastic about McBride and came to the decision to hire him after conducting more than 34 interviews over the course of 12 meetings with candidates from within county government, other public agencies and the private sector. McBride is to assume the title of county chief executive officer, the same title Devereaux had, which is distinguished from that of county administrative officer, county spokesman David Wert told the Sentinel “because the position does more than merely administrate. It executes board policy. His duties and responsibilities will be the same as Greg’s [Devereaux’s] were.”
Nevertheless, McBride was not given the comprehensive set of keys to the San Bernardino County kingdom that had been vouchsafed to Devereaux. Devereaux had been provided with a so-called “superbonus,” an arrangement that guaranteed, if not absolute, then far more substantial job security than most government administrators/executives enjoy. Devereaux’s 2010 contract specified that he could not be terminated without the board citing the cause for which it was doing so and that his firing could not be effectuated on a vote of anything less than a 4 to 1 vote of the board. By contrast, Uffer had been handed his walking papers on a bare majority 3 to 2 vote, and the board gave absolutely no grounds for his termination. Uffer’s contract indicated that he served “at the pleasure of the board,” meaning he was an at-will employee with no union or civil service protection. The termination standard for McBride has been returned to that which was in effect for Uffer. That is, only three votes are needed to terminate him. While the board must declare a cause if it does fire him during the first fifteen months of his contract, beginning in March 2019 he is considered to be a completely at-will employee and can be let go for any reason, explained or unexplained.
Devereaux’s contract guaranteed him five years in the CEO spot to be followed by five further years as CEO conditional upon both sides being amenable to his continuation, with the proviso that he would at the five year point have the option of moving into a post designated as “special projects coordinator” at $90,000 per year. McBride’s contract runs for four years, three months and three days, until February 28, 2022. He is to be paid an annual salary of $301,121, just under $7,300 less than the $308,403.93 Devereaux was receiving. On top of that, it is anticipated McBride will be provided with another $24,800 in add-ons each year, along with benefits of $96,840 per year, giving him a total annual compensation of $422,761.
McBride, a lifetime resident of San Bernardino County, holds a bachelor’s degree in economics, graduating with departmental honors, and a master’s degree in public administration from Cal State San Bernardino. Last year he was named to the university’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Hall of Fame. McBride has also participated in the leadership decision making course offered through Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government Executive Education program.
McBride has guest lectured for Cal State San Bernardino, set up an economics scholarship fund for CSUSB students, serves on the CSUSB economics department’s scholarship committee, and serves on the advisory board of the CSUSB department of public administration.
McBride began his career with the county in 1994 as a fiscal clerk in human services. He was promoted to staff analyst in the public health department in 1996, administrative analyst in the county administrative office in 2000, public health division chief in 2002, deputy executive officer in the county administrative office in 2006, and county chief financial officer in 2013.
As chief financial officer, McBride is responsible for the development of budget recommendations, monitoring and forecasting the county’s $5.2 billion annual budget as well as its $1 billion in outstanding debt. In his capacity as chief financial officer, he also serves as chairman and board member of a number of oversight and advisory boards and corporations. Under his leadership, the county has received several distinguished budget presentation awards from the Government Finance Officers Association. Recently, as a result of his work as chairman of the committee set up to restructure the county’s retirement savings plan, the county received a national award for the comprehensive restructuring of its savings plan.
McBride will officially move into the post of chief executive officer effective November 25.
“You don’t get this far in your career without the support of a great family,” McBride, 46, told the board. “Thank you for the confidence. We have some great things headed our way, a lot of opportunities, and I am excited to share in the future with all five of you.”
Members of the board also saluted Smith for leading the organization during the past seven months since Devereaux’s retirement. Smith, who plans to retire, will stay on board for a time to assist in McBride’s transition.
According to Wert, the reports that Smith was in the running to assume the title of county executive officer and drop the interim status from her designation were inaccurate.
“Dena never applied for the position,” Wert said. “She had been planning to retire when Greg announced his retirement. She agreed to stay on as interim until a new CEO was appointed. She never ran into any ‘rough sledding’ over the budget. The board decided to invest in a couple of items that she did not include in the budget. She had not been asked to include them. The board made those decisions during the budget hearing. There was money available in reserves to fund those items. The rest of the budget was approved unanimously without any changes to Dena’s recommendations. All indications are that the board has been very satisfied with how Dena has performed as interim CEO.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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