10:22 PM PDT on Thursday, September 22, 2011
BY DUANE W. GANG
Riverside County supervisors accepted the resignation of CEO Bill Luna on Thursday and are expected to hire a search firm next week to help find a new top executive.
Luna, 57, has been county executive officer since 2008, serving at a time when county leaders struggled with balancing budgets amid plummeting revenues.
He won praise from supervisors for leading the county during a time of economic turmoil. But Luna also has clashed with elected officials when they have been reluctant to make the cuts he said were necessary for the county to avoid spending more than it takes in.
Luna offered to resign last week immediately after a heated budget debate among supervisors.
He followed up with a formal resignation letter two days later, on Sept. 15, and supervisors in a special closed-session meeting Thursday voted 4-0 vote to accept his departure. Luna’s resignation becomes effective Oct. 4.
“There is a time to go,” Supervisor Jeff Stone said Thursday. “I think the board saw fit that there needs to be a change of leadership as we enter what will be one of the most challenging fiscal years to come.”
Luna did not provide reasons for his resignation in his letter and did not respond to interview requests. In a statement released through county spokesman Ray Smith, Luna said that after nearly 30 years with the county, “it is the right time in my life to look ahead.”
“The county still faces difficult financial decisions but the budget has been adopted for the coming year, a step I wanted to be sure about before making this move,” Luna said. “I want to thank the Board of Supervisors and my co-workers for their efforts and their support. I wish you well.”
Luna began his career with the county in 1982 and has served in a number of departments, including a stint as finance director and an assistant county executive officer.
As CEO, Luna earns $275,545 a year. Once Luna decides to draw retirement from the California Public Employees Retirement System, he could expect to receive about $258,000 a year in pension benefits, making him one of the county’s highest-paid retirees.
Retired County Executive Officer Larry Parrish — Luna’s immediate predecessor — has agreed to serve in the post until a replacement is found.
Parrish, who receives an annual pension of more than $235,000, will work without pay for three months, Smith said.
“We are not going to miss a beat here,” board Chairman Bob Buster said.
“I hope, and I think, we can accomplish transition to a new permanent CEO quickly,” Buster said. “We have too many other uncertainties to have that linger over our heads for long.”
In addition to grappling with finances, county officials are negotiating labor contracts with a host of employee organizations.
The county’s finances have dominated Luna’s three years as CEO. The county’s discretionary revenue, which funds basic services such as police and fire protection, has dropped by $200 million since fiscal 2006-2007.
Supervisors approved the county’s final budget for the current fiscal year on Sept. 13. The spending plan relies heavily on reserves and other one-time funding.
But the budget does not follow through on Luna’s initial two-year plan to permanently align ongoing expenses with revenues. The county faces another $80 million budget gap for next fiscal year.
At the Sept. 13 meeting, Luna told supervisors the county must take steps to reduce expenses, including possible layoffs.
“We have to shrink the size of the government that we have,” he said. “The revenue is inadequate to support it.”
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