Stanislaus County CEO Stan Risen’s future is unclear after Dec. 31

Stanislaus County Chief Executive Officer Stan Risen has an employment contract through Dec. 31, which raises questions about his future in the county’s top job.

Should county leaders start looking for a new CEO? Or will the 59-year-old Risen devote more years to managing county government, its $1.1 billion budget and more than 4,100 employees?

Risen, who had originally planned to be retired by now, agrees his future beyond Dec. 31 is unclear.

The former assistant executive officer accepted a promotion in November 2013 to replace Monica Nino, who took a job as San Joaquin County’s top administrator, and signed a three-year contract setting his base salary at $220,500 a year.

On Thursday, Risen said he has told board members to plan on a closed session in June, after the primary election, to discuss whether they want him to continue as CEO.

“Once they arrive at that conclusion, I can evaluate things at that point,” Risen said. “If they want me to stay on, I am willing to stay on a little while longer.”

Risen said he would like to help with the transition to a new board member, meaning Kristin Olsen, who is running unopposed for Supervisor Bill O’Brien’s seat. Olsen terms out as a state assemblywoman at the end of the year.

“I don’t think you will see me sign another long-term contract,” Risen added.

Earlier in the week, The Modesto Bee’s editorial board asked the three candidates for the county’s District 5 supervisorial seat how they would replace the CEO, if it comes to that.

Incumbent Jim DeMartini, who’s opposed by Patterson Mayor Luis Molina and Eileen Wyatt Stokman of Ceres, talked about filling the post the traditional way. He said he’s played a role in hiring three CEOs in almost 12 years on the Board of Supervisors.

It’s the board’s job to hire the top executive, he stressed. “I have done it three times, so I can do it again.”

Stokman, a retired county social services employee, said more people than the five supervisors should be involved with any recruitment.

She suggested that a survey of county front-line staff could reveal what employees are looking for in a manager. Stokman also called for input from the community and said the next CEO should be in tune with the county’s diversity.

Molina said the county won’t be able to replace a person with Risen’s abilities. If the CEO chooses to retire, the county should consider hiring a qualified administrator from within the county, who understands the cultural and economic diversity of the area and wants to expand opportunities, Molina said.

The last time the county hired a CEO from outside the county, it worked out well.

Former CEO Rick Robinson provided strong guidance after Reagan Wilson resigned amid a storm of controversy in 2003. In about seven years as CEO, Robinson made county government more customer-friendly and transparent. He pushed for changes to the burdensome public employee retirement system, which led to tough decisions that shored up the pension fund.

Nino, a home-grown CEO who followed Robinson in January 2012, had a 20-month stint in the CEO’s office before taking the same job with San Joaquin County.

Risen’s most visible contribution has been community engagement. He spearheaded Focus on Prevention, sparking a local movement behind reducing homelessness, strengthening families and keeping criminal offenders from bouncing in and out of jail.

Risen said the initiative is building relationships in the community that are capable of positive outcomes.

The initiative bringing together 10 different sectors of the community is one thing that might keep him on the job, he said. “It has been exciting to see the opportunities that are starting to surface,” Risen said. “It’s cool to be part of that.”

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321