John Volanti, former head of the Merced County Department of Public Health, got a sweet deal twice when he retired last month.
On top of a $6,153 pay bump for giving one year's notice before leaving, Volanti also got a $75,000 consultant contract.
A call to Volanti's home phone wasn't returned by Tuesday evening.
County leaders interviewed Tuesday said the consultant contract was worth the expense because of Volanti's expertise on local public health issues. The same leaders said they stood behind the 5 percent pay increase, especially since the program has since ended.
A series of decisions by the Board of Supervisors that began in March 2009 ultimately led to Volanti's early retirement -- even after he received the pay boost for 10 months -- and the contract as a consultant.
Volanti announced his retirement as county public health director April 14, 2009. Volanti soon began receiving an extra $293 every two weeks for giving notice that his last day would be March 26, 2010, according to county records.
This Jan. 12, Volanti pushed his retirement earlier -- to Jan. 15 from March 26, effectively leaving before the 346 days he gave as notice. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the date change.
Tammy Moss, deputy public health director, was promoted to the department's top position, a move that came with a 10 percent temporary raise.
Later, on Jan. 26, Volanti was rehired by the county as a consultant making $115 a hour. He can make another $75,000 working for the county on that contract, which is good until Dec. 31, 2010.
Moss will continue to report to the CEO's office until a replacement is hired. County officials said Tuesday they were unsure whether a search had started for Volanti's replacement before his departure in mid-January.
At the same board meeting when Volanti was hired as a consultant Jan. 26, the supervisors did away with the 5-percent pay bump incentive for future departures. CEO Larry Combs said the program was unnecessary.
"It was this case, but not because of this case, that brought the program to my attention, and I took an item to the Board of Supervisors to terminate the program," Combs said Tuesday. "There was a good intent for the program when it was installed, and John entered into the contract in good faith, and I couldn't see punishing him for needing to leave early."
Combs said the county had long planned -- even before Dee Tatum's retirement -- to contract on certain issues with Volanti after retirement. According to the consultant contract, Volanti will continue as the primary negotiator with Catholic Healthcare West over medical services to South Side residents. He will also continue to work on several programs for MediCal and indigent public health patients.
Volanti's contract also includes a clause allowing him to "advise on and participate in other studies, analysis or special projects related to health as needed."
"I think that's mainly flexibility," said county spokeswoman Katie Albertson. "The purpose of the contract is for those key issues, but we want to have flexibility in case something comes up."
Supervisors Hub Walsh and John Pedrozo said Volanti remained valuable to the county public health department.
"Mr. Volanti was a real asset to Merced County and to the health department. With the hospital transition coming up, I think it was real important to keep him on as a consultant," Pedrozo said. "That's a lot of money. I understand that. But I think that John was such a good department head that he didn't want to leave early in the first place."
Walsh said keeping Volanti as a consultant was also a prudent financial decision.
"If you need expertise on those levels of complexity," he said about the negotiations with Catholic Healthcare West, "then I think it is best to contract with someone who already knows rather than starting with someone brand-new."
Volanti had served as the county's public health director since 2003. Before coming to Merced County, Volanti worked at four other county health departments, most recently as San Mateo County's deputy director for community clinics, during his 35-year career.
He retired with a final yearly salary of $163,092.
Reporter Danielle E. Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.