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Shuffle continues in wake of two high-level Placer County departures

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Changes are taking place in the upper echelons of Placer County management. A year ago, County Executive Officer Tom Miller was flanked by three top-level staffers – Assistant CEO’s Holly Heinzen and Mike Boyle and Chief Assistant Executive Officer Rich Colwell. Colwell unexpectedly left his $243,131-a-year job with little fanfare in late November 2009 with no replacement named. And Boyle retired from his $169,104-a-year job in September, again with little fanfare and no replacement. That has left Miller with one assistant CEO and led to an organizational restructuring now taking place that discontinues the two top jobs Colwell and Boyle no longer occupy. That has led to questions among some over whether the high-salary, high-level positions were actually needed in the first place. Dale Smith, a North Auburn community activist and frequent critic of the county, said that when governments have revenue growth – as Placer County did during middle of last decade – spending tends to increase dramatically. “When times are tough they tend to find that they can get along with a lot less,” Smith said. “You and I have to get along with a lot less. Why not government? It probably shows the fact that they really weren’t that necessary.” Miller said that with budget revenues waning in recent years and expected to be flat for Placer County for at least the next two years, the county as a whole is not doing things that it used to do. But he rejects the idea that the two top positions being left unfilled show that Boyle and Colwell’s positions were unnecessary. Any time improvements to an organization result in changes like the elimination of jobs, there will be those who question whether the jobs were needed in the first place, Miller said. The organizational restructuring will spread out functions Boyle and Colwell had taken on. But the impact of their departures will continue to be felt in sometimes not getting answers as quickly as before and delays in responses, Miller said. “I’d say ‘Yes, that they were necessary to begin with,’” Miller said. Boyle retired Sept. 1 after 22 years with the county, first as manager of the emergency services office. As assistant CEO, Boyle’s duties included work on labor negotiations, Miller said. With the recent contract agreement with the Placer County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and after intensive labor negotiations with that group and the Placer County Public Employees Organization, the time was right to make organizational changes, Miller said. Colwell’s departure resulted in his duties, including oversight over economic redevelopment, being given to other CEO’s office managers. He also had been with the county for two decades and became the chief deputy CEO in 2006. In September, supervisors voted to not refill the chief assistant executive officer post held by Colwell before his retirement and downgrade the assistant county executive officer position held by Boyle until his retirement. Shifts in responsibilities are also being spurred by two other high-level departures besides Boyle and Colwell. County Budget Administrator Jeff Bell’s last day with the County Executive Office was Sept. 1. His salary at his time of departure was $114,795 a year. In his place, the county is creating a new position – finance and budget operations manager. That post’s annual salary is estimated to be $122,000, Heinzen said in an e-mail reply to several questions submitted by the Journal. Other changes include removing one position – administrative secretary – who had been working for Colwell. The salary was $52,000 a year. Heinzen said some of the duties supporting the Board of Supervisors that had previously been assigned to Boyle will be assumed by a principal management analyst. But some elements of the assistant position have also been shifted to the risk management division of the executive office. The salary for the principal management analyst is $106,000 a year and no one has been hired yet for the position. And, in one more change, the county executive’s and board of supervisors office functions are being consolidated. “In general, as staff reductions have occurred, assignments are shifted or absorbed by other staff, Heinzen said. Consolidating County Executive’s Office and Board of Supervisor’s functions into a single department eliminates the need for a department head position and those responsibilities now are to be shared by Miller, a principal management analyst and herself, Heinzen said. Taking new hirings and departures into consideration, the total annual savings of the reorganization plan and other recent position reductions – including de-funding of the chief assistant county executive – are expected to be $400,000, Heinzen said. Heinzen’s duties have expanded since Colwell left. A leader in budget efforts, she is also assuming oversight responsibilities in the CEO’s office for health and human services and criminal-justice related areas. She also is now responsible for Tahoe operations. Miller had assumed oversight on economic development issues after Colwell’s departure. While taking on more duties, Heinzen said there is no proposal to change the current salary she earns. Board of Supervisors Chairman Kirk Uhler said that he couldn’t answer a question on the need for three assistants for the CEO because he hadn’t been part of the process in selecting them. Uhler said that when he finished his first term as supervisor and then stepped down from the office in the mid-1990s, the county had one assistant CEO – Gloria Coutts. “When I returned in 2006, changes were made and they were already there,” Uhler said. Uhler and other supervisors voted for the discontinuation of the posts formerly held by Colwell and Boyle. “When you have changes at the senior management level and new realities result, it’s a chance to re-evaluate things,” Uhler said. Rich Colwell Title: Chief Assistant Executive Officer Salary: $243,000 a year Duties: Economic development, law enforcement, health and human services, redevelopment Mike Boyle Title: Assistant County Executive Officer Salary: $169,000 a year Duties: Assessment appeals board, county labor negotiations, general board support