Snoke Given Nod To Lead County As CEO

On Tuesday, September 12, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to elevate Luther Snoke to the full-fledged position of county chief executive officer.
Snoke, who held the position of county chief operating officer for nearly three years, was brought in to succeed former CEO Leonard Hernandez as acting CEO after the latter was suspended on August 8 of this year, ten days before he officially resigned.
The entire board of supervisors expressed confidence in Snoke in the aftermath of a scandal county officials for more than a month now have refrained from acknowledging. Under Hernandez, the county suffered diminishing productivity and poor execution within multiple county departments after he terminated, forced out or prompted the resignations of multiple senior administrators, department heads and upper- and mid-level managers with whom he had personal differences or personality conflicts, including the individual who was serving as the county’s top in-house lawyer at the time he became CEO, an assistant executive officer for finance and administration, another assistant executive officer, the director of public health, the director of information technology, the director of risk management, a senior deputy county counsel, an individual serving in the capacity of acting economic development director, a deputy director of public works, the director of purchasing, the director of land use services, a deputy executive officer, the director of behavioral health, the director of children and family services, the director of agriculture, weights and measures, the county’s chief learning officer and the director of child support services.
For nearly two years, Hernandez and several administrators and department directors he had promoted into the positions of those he had moved out had been able to keep a lid on the county’s burgeoning problems and dysfunction, but beginning last year the county suffered a series of setbacks that were a direct outcome of his mismanagement. Ultimately, Hernandez’s tenure as CEO unraveled when it was revealed that he was involved in a sexual relationship with Pam Williams, the woman he had jumped 17 pay grades from her position as a principal administrative analyst to that of the county’s chief of administration. When, in the wake of that revelation it was learned that Hernandez had been concupiscent with at least two other women working for the county, his then-ongoing vacation leave was extended, and the county quickly negotiated a separation agreement with him in the hope the matter would quietly resolve itself without any attention being focused on it.Snoke was tapped to fill in for Hernandez on a temporary basis. A little more than a month later, the board of supervisors has permanentized that assignment, making Snoke the actual CEO.
“It is truly an honor to work for a county that capitalizes on the diversity of its people, its geography and economy,” Snoke said in a prepared statement released in conjunction with his appointment. “I look forward to working with the board and our staff to achieve the countywide vision of increasing access to prosperity and well-being throughout our region.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, when the vote to promote Snoke was made, Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman said the board of supervisors had “full confidence in you to… keep our county in the right direction, achieving greatness as it has the last few years and to establish a great culture of inclusiveness and acceptance and greatness, like you’ve been doing.”
Four days before he was elevated to CEO and was yet in the interim role, Snoke on September 8 sent all county personnel an email in which he acknowledged that “The recent changes in county leadership have opened up wounds for those who have felt past pain or deep frustration towards certain aspects of past leadership. The shock of the recent changes has created fear within our ranks, with staff wondering ‘Where will the county go from here?’”
He lamented “sensational unverified stories, without regard for the truth” that had recently appeared in the local press “alleging various things about county staff.” Those accounts were doing the county and its employees a disservice, he said. “We all know the county is full of good, hard-working people… who are dedicated to doing their best for this county, just like you and I are… who are crushed when they see their names mentioned” and “who are hurt when they see the county’s name dragged through the mud, when they and so many more work so hard to have it well represented.”
Snoke wrote, “For those who know me, this all hits close to home, as I am sure it does for you. We care so much for those who every day put themselves on the line for this county… who show up even when it’s hard, and still give it their all… who do incredible things to serve the residents of the county and make our communities better. We are a team. I hurt as a leader when there is a collective feeling of disappointment or defeat.”
Both before and after the board’s action to promote Snoke, county employees reacted to Snoke’s letter. There was a general consensus among those the Sentinel spoke with that the new CEO is well meaning and represents a positive change from the direction and atmospherics that existed under Hernandez. A common theme was that Snoke seemed genuinely intent on overcoming the hiccough that had occurred with the demise of his predecessor. Others gave him high marks for his enthusiasm and upbeat attitude.
A few, however, were skeptical about whether he is constitutionally and attitudinally capable of eradicating the infection that had settled into various spots in the county in the form of Hernandez’s appointment of his loyalists who were described as more committed to their own ambition and personal advancement than they were in living up to the ideal of public service that should have been the performance standard they adhered to.
Three county employees spoke with the Sentinel in a conference call on Tuesday. Each expressed in slightly differently articulated terms that the demonstrated willingness of Hernandez’s acolytes to please him when it was apparent that his priorities clashed with recognized best governmental practices and clearly stated policies and procedures raised questions as to their fitness for holding the positions Hernandez appointed them to and in which they remain. Snoke so far appears unwilling to confront those bad actors who yet hold positions of authority within the county, they said.
One county employee the Sentinel engaged with said he found Snoke’s remarks refreshing and discouraging at the same time. He said Snoke enunciated an admirable degree of confidence and set forth a worthy set of goals. “He’s a nicer guy and has a far superior value system than Leonard ever did,” he said. “There’s no mistaking that.”
Ironically, however, he said, it seems that Snoke lacks the two elements of Hernandez’s personality that counted for much in terms of commanding the county’s ship of state: decisiveness and forcefulness.
“I think the question is this: Does he [Snoke] possess the ruthlessness he needs in order to lead?” the employee said. “Time will tell, but from what I see, I just don’t think Luther is aggressive enough. Leonard had no problem getting what he wanted, even when it wasn’t in the county organization’s interest. By his tremendous show of will, this overwhelming striking of fear into anyone he was dealing with, Leonard made everyone do what he asked for. He made the department directors do things they knew they shouldn’t do. To stay on Leonard’s good side, they were as ruthless with their departments’ employees as Leonard was with them. Now, Luther’s in charge but he just can’t bring himself to be as ruthless in rooting out those people who did Leonard’s dirty work for him. Leonard’s gone, but other than that there haven’t been any real changes.”
In his September 8 letter, Snoke said, “I’ve spent considerable time over the past few weeks since my interim appointment working to figure out how to best shape the future in a positive way for our leadership and for our county team. What I have found is that we do not have a county that is stalled in its efforts to perform. In fact, I see employees becoming more empowered than ever before and being entrusted with greater responsibility. We have a strong and aligned board [of supervisors]. I have personally witnessed our board members building up and supporting our teams, appreciating the great work being done by the great people who do it, and wanting to be involved and engaged like never before.”
Fleetingly, Snoke acknowledged damage had been inflicted on the county and county staff morale by Hernandez and Hernandez’s management team.
“However, I also see an organization that is wounded and confused by recent changes,” he wrote. “That is to be expected.”
Still, he offered no assurance that his administration would directly address the pervasive remnants of Hernandez’s appointees who hold the lion’s share of positions in the county’s administrative echelon. Rather, he expressed hope the county could cure itself holistically, without any radical surgery or amputations.
“[W]e each need our own time and space to heal and move forward,” he said. “I do believe that time heals all wounds. I believe that great work cannot be hidden and will shine through. I believe that kindness and respect are requirements. I believe that it is a non-negotiable, that we operate with integrity, and a lack of integrity or concern for this organization must be addressed. I believe that the county will thrive and continue to demonstrate the incredible things we can do for the community, our residents, and for each other.”
Snoke said his formula for recovery was camaraderie.
“How do we get there?” he asked and then answered: “The first step is we support each other. We build one another up. We don’t go it alone, but we ask for help when we need it, and we offer help when it’s needed. We then move forward together, aligned in vision, and led by a strong, unified board and a leader that has deep care and concern for our mission and for you… someone who wants to see those who give it their all achieve all that they desire. We are not perfect, but we strive to do our best. This is our chance to show everyone watching that the county is great.”
Chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors Dawn Rowe said she is sold on Snoke’s leadership formula.
“Throughout his time with the county, Luther has effectively managed department operations, which has translated to maximum efficiency and quality public service,” she said. “Given his proven track record of quality leadership, I’m very confident in his ability to continue expanding and improving the services we provide to our residents.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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