Monday morning, as Jody Hayes starts his first official day as chief executive officer of Stanislaus County, we want him to keep one word in mind: Integrity.
Integrity was the hallmark of his predecessor’s tenure at the helm of Stanislaus County. It’s that integrity, we believe, that allowed Stan Risen to be an exceptionally effective and forward thinking leader and accomplish an incredible amount in his 3 years, 8 months leading the county. Those accomplishments were possible because no one could question his motives or intentions.
Risen arrived in the corner office in 2013, a veteran of 26 years with the county. One of his role models had been Rick Robinson, who helped right a listing ship after the controversial tenure of Reagan Wilson.
It was soon apparent that Risen was great with numbers as he deftly managed a county budget of $1.1 billion with 4,100 employees. He was as loyal to staff (always giving credit to subordinates) as he was to his bosses. Most important, he had a deep compassion for those less fortunate.
Acting on that compassion, Risen and Supervisor Terry Withrow helped establish Focus on Prevention. Their idea was to attack homelessness and poverty at its root, involving a cross-section of community leaders and involvement at all levels – including the homeless.
It was never meant to be a government-driven, top-down solution. And earlier this year, several community leaders pledged $1.4 million to assure Focus will stay on track.
Focus “will not go away,” said Withrow. “We have a commitment from the board to continue Focus on Prevention for years.”
Other accomplishments include comparative peace with 12 labor unions as the county emerged from incredibly difficult economic times. And in the midst of an historic drought, Stanislaus County was one of the first to develop a plan for sustainable groundwater use.
Under Risen’s watch, the county opened a new jail and passed a half-cent sales tax to fix roads and build new ones. The county restructured and paid down its debt and, with the leadership of supervisor Vito Chiesa, rid itself of the negative bailout that had cost the county $72 million over three decades.
There were some rough patches. Risen had to help disassemble the Modesto Regional Fire Authority and work to repair bad relations between Modesto’s police and the sheriff’s department over the emergency call center. The former Crows Landing Naval Air Station remains an unused asset even as nearby Patterson is adding distribution centers. He also had to figure out a way to keep the cities invested in the landfill after they complained tipping fees were not competitive. And no county or city in California has yet fully come to grips with retirement costs.
But problems were never ignored and neither were relationships. The reason Risen was so effective wasn’t due entirely to his skills or personality; it was because his counterparts in the cities and other public agencies trusted him. That made progress and cooperation possible.
“Stan is the epitome of an effective leader,” Chiesa told The Bee earlier this year. “He has been a leader of great influence with tremendous integrity who keeps the community first in his deliberations. It would be hard to find a better example of a leader and public servant.”
There is no doubt that Risen has been an excellent “public servant,” as Chiesa put it. The reason for that excellence, we believe, is that Risen never forgot that no matter who he reported to, he was always working for the public. On their behalf. And the only way to effectively serve the public is with integrity.
Hayes was one of Risen’s top lieutenants over the past two years. We trust he’ll do the same.