Supervisors seek ‘a different direction’
Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 11/17/2009 07:50:25 PM PST

In an abrupt move, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unexpectedly fired County Administrative Officer Mark Uffer.

The firing is “without cause,” meaning Uffer was not accused of wrongdoing and is entitled to a full severance package.

“It took me totally by surprise. I had no idea this was coming,” Uffer said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “It’s certainly a disappointment when you know you’ve given the best you can give and that doesn’t seem to be good enough.”

In a closed session, the board voted 3-2 to remove Uffer from his appointed post. Supervisors Paul Biane and Josie Gonzales voted against the action.

Sitting in a chair on the fifth floor of the County Government Center after Tuesday’s board meeting and appearing distressed, Gonzales said Uffer performed his job well, worked hard and was honest and ethical.

“My vote speaks very clearly and plainly,” she said. “This county must continue to work together cohesively in order to address the very difficult economic times.”

She said the board will begin discussing a replacement for Uffer immediately.

Meanwhile, Assistant County Administrative Officer Dean Arabatzis will assume the duties of CAO until an interim or permanent replacement for Uffer is named, county spokesman David Wert said.

Biane did not respond to a request for comment.

Uffer, 56, of Highland, said he was not given a reason for his dismissal.

“I asked if there were any deficiencies in my work performance or if I had done something that had angered the board, and the only reason I was given is that there was no reason and no cause for my termination, and that the board just wanted to go in a different direction,” Uffer said.

Board Chairman Gary Ovitt said in a statement that Uffer’s termination was not based on any wrongful conduct.

“This was a difficult decision for the board. Mark has served the county well for many years,” Ovitt said. “However, the board felt it was necessary to move in a different direction at this time.”

In recent months, Uffer’s office learned of a more than $6million deficit in the Land Use Services Department, which resulted in the elimination of 61 positions and the abrupt retirements of department director Julie Rynerson Rock and Assistant County Administrator Norm Kanold, who oversaw the department and signed off on its budgets.

Uffer doesn’t believe his termination resulted from those problems.

“I talked to every board member relative to the issues with land use services, and literally every board member had issues with how land use was being operated, ” Uffer said. “It wasn’t as if my office was being blamed for what happened there. I don’t think that was an issue.”

Uffer’s dismissal comes amid a wide-ranging District Attorney’s Office investigation into corruption in San Bernardino County. The entire Board of Supervisors has been served with subpoenas to appear before a county Grand Jury, and Uffer has been interviewed as a witness by investigators probing allegations of misconduct in the county Assessor’s Office.

Five former Assessor’s Office officials, including former Assessor Bill Postmus, have been charged with crimes, and District Attorney Michael A. Ramos has said investigators are now looking into the county’s $102million settlement with Colonies Partners LP in 2006.

Supervisor Neil Derry said he couldn’t divulge specifics as to why the board opted to seek out new county leadership and that Uffer threatened litigation.

Derry did say that when he was elected supervisor last year and began his term, he already had issues with the way the county was operating and thinks the county needs to be more progressive.

“I think this is an opportunity to evaluate the direction of the county and bring in some new blood,” Derry said.

Uffer said he is leaving the county with more than $200million in its reserves. Since taking the job as CAO in September 2004, he said he provided the board with a balanced budget every year and improved on every area of customer service in the county.

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