By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County has hired an agricultural commissioner eight months after the county’s former top ag official was fired in what became an ugly and protracted legal battle.
Tony Linegar, 46, the current Mendocino County agricultural commissioner, will move south to take on the same role in Sonoma County. He is set to start in January.
The Board of Supervisors announced the hiring Tuesday at the beginning of its afternoon meeting.
Linegar praised county ag staff as “highly professional, capable people.”
“To be a part of that team is a great opportunity for me,” he said.
The hiring represents another step — and county leaders hope it is a final step — away from the embattled tenure of Cathy Neville, who was fired from the ag post in March for misconduct and incompetence after several employees reported that she acted erratically and disparaged them. Other county officials said Neville also did not show the necessary leadership on several high-profile agricultural initiatives.
Neville’s firing came eight months after she fired Amy Cooper, head of the Animal Care and Control Division, a decision that led later to the investigation of Neville’s leadership and the entire animal division being moved to a different department. Cooper has since been re-hired as the animal care manager.
Neville has appealed a superior court judge’s ruling that upheld the county’s decision to fire her.
Since May, the county’s top ag position has been held on a part-time basis by Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Dave Whitmer. His contract will extend through the end of this year, a county spokesman said.
County officials said Linegar has more than 16 years experience in the field and brings expertise on agricultural pests and diseases and watershed issues. He has served in his current post since January, 2009 and has worked for Mendocino County since 2001.
Linegar, who worked with Shasta County from 1995 to 2001, has a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Chico State University. His annual salary with Sonoma County will be $138,000.