By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The top position in the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner’s office, vacant after supervisors fired Cathy Neville two weeks ago, could be temporarily turned over to a Napa County official while supervisors search for a permanent hire, Sonoma County Administrator Veronica Ferguson said Monday.
The Board of Supervisors is set to meet Tuesday in closed session with Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Dave Whitmer to discuss his possible part-time appointment to the post.
The move represents a step away from the office’s interim leadership team of three managers, who have been in charge since Neville was placed on paid administrative leave in mid-January.
Board Chair Efren Carrillo said supervisors support the current team, which includes former county ag commissioner Lisa Correia, who served four years in the post before Neville took over in 2008. The other two managers are Fernando Vasquez, who oversees weights and measures, and Natalie Brunamonte, who oversees administrative functions.
“I have every sense of confidence about their abilities to manage the ag commissioner’s office,” said Carrillo.
But he and Ferguson also said that the division could benefit from having a single executive in place while the hiring process plays out.
Ferguson said that step could take as long as six months.
“This is intended to provide additional leadership and resources while we focus on recruitment of that position,” Carrillo said.
He and Ferguson both mentioned Whitmer’s familiarity with state policy, especially on pest control, as reasons for seeking his help.
Correia, who was active on pest quarantines in her term as county ag commissioner, declined to comment on the personnel move or say whether she was considering applying for the post.
State code governing ag commissioners allows them to work for multiple counties in certain situations. If appointed here, Whitmer would continue to work for Napa County.
Preliminary discussions have looked at bringing Whitmer on for up to 16 hours a week during the interim period. Under a tentative contract that would come back to the board later this month, the county would pay Whitmer at a salary rate equal to his current pay — between $56 to $67 dollars an hour, Napa County records show — plus benefits, mileage and expenses.
Reached by phone Monday, Whitmer declined to comment about the possible move. “My intent is to go and have a conversation with the board,” he said.
After the closed session Tuesday, County Counsel Bruce Goldstein is also set to make his first public report on the timing and actions taken by the Board of Supervisors that led to Neville’s March 22 firing.
Despite meeting several times behind closed doors about Neville in recent months, supervisors never reported having taken any action to fire her. The only public record was a termination notice quietly filed with board clerk two weeks ago.
Greg Dion, chief deputy county counsel, said “administrative procedures” linked to the firing but still uncompleted two weeks ago prevented any fuller disclosure at that time.
He declined to detail what those procedures were. Goldstein was returning from a vacation abroad Monday.
Neville, 53, faced intense scrutiny after her controversial decision in July to fire Amy Cooper, the former director of Animal Care and Control, two days before Cooper’s yearlong probationary status was to expire.
The firing, which Neville and her attorney have defended, caused an uproar among animal-control employees and sparked a county investigation that ultimately led the Board of Supervisors in September to transfer the agency to the Health Services Department.
She was placed on administrative leave in January for reasons the county refuses to disclose.
Neville has vowed to sue to get her job back. Neither she nor her attorney could be reached Monday.