Now that their home-grown chief executive officer has accepted a new job, Stanislaus County supervisors are pondering how to fill the high-level position.
Monica Nino was chosen Tuesday as top administrator for San Joaquin County, just short of 19 months after she was promoted to CEO in this county.
"It was the bigger opportunity, the bigger organization and the challenge," Nino said in explaining why she accepted the job offering 18 percent higher pay and enviable benefits. "Things were going fine here. It was a great professional opportunity; I would have regretted it if I had not applied."
Nino, 49, said more than one person in San Joaquin County administration approached her about applying. She said she recently had told Stanislaus supervisors she was interviewing for the job.
County leaders who were contacted Wednesday said they understood her decision.
"We knew for a couple of weeks she was interviewing," Supervisor Terry Withrow said. "She was doing a good job. I am disappointed she is leaving so soon."
Supervisor Jim DeMartini said he was "surprised, but there was an opportunity for her that came up. She was doing just fine as our CEO. I hate to see her go."
Nino and her current bosses will have to deal with a contractual clause that requires her to give six months' notice of a job change. Officials said the agreement was intended to give the county time to recruit a successor, and a shorter transition period can be negotiated.
Nino said she will ask that her last day with the county be in early September. Supervisors said they will meet in closed session Tuesday to discuss the transition and the process of finding a new CEO.
"I am willing to do whatever is needed for a smooth transition in leadership," she said.
The Board of Supervisors hired Nino as CEO on a 3-2 vote in November 2011. The 25-year county employee was hired as an accountant in 1988 and gradually rose in the ranks to assistant executive officer in 2005.
Nino has landed an attractive position that will pay her $244,000 a year, with a reported $580 monthly car allowance, plus $2,000 a month for buying health coverage. San Joaquin has a $1.33 billion budget, 6,325 employees and facilities that Stanislaus doesn't have, such as a county hospital.
Assistant Executive Officer Stan Risen fell one vote short of getting the CEO's job in 2011. He could be a top candidate to succeed Nino if he still has an interest. Risen did not return a message left for him Wednesday.
The county also could take a look at Tulare County CEO Jean Rousseau, who was one of the finalists for the San Joaquin job.
Board Chairman Vito Chiesa said he wants a full recruitment to find the most qualified candidates, but in-house applicants will be considered. "I think we have an obligation to the people to look for the best," he said.
Chiesa said the board will need to appoint an interim CEO, either an assistant executive officer, such as Risen or Patty Hill Thomas, or a retired executive who's willing to fill in.
DeMartini countered that the county could avoid the time and expense of a nationwide search by making an in-house promotion.
Former CEO Rick Robinson, who retired at the end of 2011, led the county for eight years. It may be harder in the future to keep a CEO for the long term, however, as large numbers of baby boomers retire and vacate top-level government positions.
Nino earned less than her predecessor, Robinson, who made $252,000 when he retired. Budget cuts to deal with the effects of the economy had reduced her earnings here to $207,270 a year.
Specify service time?
Withrow and Chiesa said they did not know if it would be legal or desirable for a contract with the next CEO to include a minimum service time, such as five years. "You have the hope that someone will stick around longer," Chiesa said. "But if a person does not want to be there, you don't want them there."
Nino, a Modesto native, said she was grateful for the opportunities her home county had given her. "I love this organization. I feel I am leaving one wonderful organization for another one," she said.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321. Follow his County Pulse blog at modbee.com/blogs.