County prepares for retirement of department heads

The county’s top brass are being shuffled as officials prepare for widespread retirements of up to three-fourths of the government department heads in the coming five years.

A new assistant county manager will be brought on board, filling a post that has been vacant for more than a year. In addition, a new deputy county manager will be added — for a total of three — as executives look to coordinate departments for better efficiency and improved communication, County Manager John Maltbie said. He said he hopes to have the two posts filled by October.

The shuffle is one of the changes recommended by a $130,000 study on how to improve San Mateo County’s government, and it paves the way for a $1.6 million plan to pass the torch to the next generation of administrators. Fifty percent to 75 percent of county departments heads and executives will be eligible to retire by 2011, officials said.

“This will also give us more in-house candidates to choose from when John [Maltbie] decides to retire,” SupervisorRich Gordon said. Maltbie, who has more than two years left on his contract, agreed some of the changes could be viewed as preparation for his departure, but he said he doesn’t anticipate leaving soon.

“This is part of a larger reorganization plan that focuses on succession planning and efficiency management,” he said.

Part of that plan includes annual performance evaluations of departments. Each department will be reviewed for best practices on a rotating basis, with one-fifth of departments being evaluated each year, Maltbie said.

Steve Keil, director of legislative services for the California Association of Counties, said such regular performance measurement on an across-the-board basis is rare among California counties.

After previously announcing he would retire in June 2004, Maltbie said he rethought that plan in the face of expensive divorce proceedings.

But a bigger factor is that the county’s government hasn’t undergone a reorganization in about 12 years, Maltbie said. As part of the reorganization plan, two departments, Employee and Public Service and Environmental Services, were recently eliminated. Personnel in the County Counsel’s Office have also been shuffled, officials said.

Board of Supervisors President Jerry Hill said the new deputy county manager position, in particular, would help prevent requests by residents in unincorporated areas from getting lost in the 5,700-employee bureaucracy. “If you look at the structural changes that are taking place, I think it creates more accountability and responsiveness,” Hill said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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