Greg Devereaux

Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 08/14/2010 09:51:19 PM PDT

Limiting the day-to-day authority of elected officials can be a dicey business.

But for San Bernardino County Administrative Officer Greg Devereaux, the trust he’s engendered as a successful city manager in Ontario and Fontana appears to have convinced the county Board of Supervisors to do things his way.

In June, the Board of Supervisors, at Devereaux’s request, agreed to shift some of its staff and the director of land-use services into the CAO’s office to form two new units, one focusing on special projects for the board and the other focusing on intergovernmental relations.

In addition, the board agreed to transfer the entire five-member staff of the Office of Legislative Affairs into Devereaux’s office to report to him directly.

But what looks on the surface like a shift in power is being well-received by Devereaux’s bosses.

“It’s simply a shifting of duties that is logical and sensical,” said 3rd District Supervisor Neil Derry, adding that the board still retains the power over all its obligations or duties.

“I think these new positions will assist the board in performing our duties.”

Devereaux says it’s all about providing a greater level of support that lends to better policymaking and better implementation.

“It gives us more strength in terms of the kind of staff work that we’re going to be able to provide now,” he said.

Most importantly, Devereaux said, it will end a long-standing practice of myriad county agencies, including the Board of Supervisors, operating independently. The new government structure makes it easier to implement a sound vision plan that the county can move forward with, he said.

“I wanted more people working and reporting directly to me as we recognize the county vision, its objectives and specific projects we’re committed to getting done,” Devereaux said.

Devereaux’s new staff includes Land Use Services Director Dena Smith, who now serves the dual function of deputy administrative officer for the board projects unit. Bob Page, former chief of staff for Supervisor Josie Gonzales, and Mary O’Toole, former deputy chief of staff for Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, will serve on the unit with Smith.

The intergovernmental relations unit will include Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for Board of Supervisors’ Chairman Gary Ovitt, Michael Delgado, a former analyst for Ovitt, and John Richardson, a former field representative for Mitzelfelt.

They will be the custodians of specialized knowledge for the county, sitting on the boards of various governmental agencies including San Bernardino Associated Governments, the Air quality Management District and Southern California Association of Governments.

In the past, that specialized knowledge was usually housed in individual board offices and not one centralized county office.

“That function will now be performed for all board members by the CAO’s Intergovernmental Affairs Unit,” said David Wert, county spokesman.

Though Ovitt lost two of his staff members in the process, his spokesman, Burt Southard, says the payoff was well worth it.

“It streamlines operations. It targets operations for different projects and different organizations within the county,” Southard said. “You have a much longer institutional knowledge and memory by the creation of those two units that will extend beyond individual supervisors.”

It appears Devereaux is positioning his chess pieces in all the right places.

“It certainly seems the new CAO is taking over and is going to be a much stronger CAO than ones in the past,” said Bob Stern, executive director for the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “What he’s doing is having one person be in charge of the many county administrative activities. It’s going to be more efficient and an easier chain of command for county employees.”

The consolidation of staff was also aimed at helping close the county’s $89.4 million budget gap. The Board of Supervisors approved the county’s 2010-11 budget on June 28. It eliminates 529 positions, 85 of which were filled.

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