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O.C.'s CEO Job Rejected Again

Hiring of a Nevada official was expected this month, but he withdraws. It's the second turn-down for the job in 10 months.

June 18, 2004|Stuart Pfeifer and Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writers

Orange County supervisors suffered another setback Thursday in their 18-month quest to hire an executive officer when the manager of Clark County, Nev., rejected their job offer.

Thom Reilly, who for three years has managed the fast-growing county that includes Las Vegas, is the second candidate in 10 months to have been unsuccessfully courted by Orange County supervisors to head the nation's fifth most populous county.

Supervisors discussed the hiring in closed session Tuesday and declined to discuss the matter Thursday. Sources familiar with the negotiations said Reilly's hiring appeared imminent until late Thursday afternoon when Reilly called the county's interim executive officer to withdraw from consideration.

"It's a tough decision. Orange County is a great place, but so is Clark County," Reilly, 43, said in a telephone interview. "It's one of those things you have to weigh back and forth. Ultimately, I just decided to stay here."

The Board of Supervisors had been expected to approve the hiring as early as its next scheduled meeting, on June 29, and Reilly was expected to start in July, sources said.

Reilly said he would have gotten paid more than the roughly $175,000 annual salary he earns in Las Vegas.

In August, Riverside County Executive Officer Larry Parrish withdrew from consideration because of concerns about how his departure would affect his retirement benefits.

As Clark County manager, Reilly oversees a budget of more than $3 billion and a government that serves 1.6 million residents and includes the busy McCarran International Airport. He's faced budget challenges and the indictment last year of one current and three former members of the county board of commissioners.

In May, Reilly persuaded county commissioners to eliminate 20 high-paying management positions and use the savings to hire 40 workers, mainly in public safety areas.

He said he expected to face similar budget challenges in Orange County.

Reilly said he was attracted to Orange County in part because of its climate, noting that he spends a great deal of time outdoors training for triathlons.

"It was a very difficult decision. Clark County has its challenges like any other government. But Nevada's been good to me, and Clark County has been good to me," he said.

"The board I have here has been incredibly supportive, and that's rare. It's not always the case when you're the county manager."

Orange County, which operates with 17,000 employees and on a $4.6-billion budget, will continue to be managed by interim CEO James Ruth, a former Anaheim city manager under contract through October.

The county has been without a permanent top executive since January 2003 when it fired Michael Schumacher.

Being Orange County's top executive has been a tough job in recent years. Before the county's bankruptcy in December 1994, county administrators had served for decades without controversy.

After the bankruptcy, however, supervisors fired their chief administrator and replaced him with a stronger executive officer, business executive William Popejoy. He held the job for no pay, but he left less than a year later after publicly questioning the board's competence.

Jan Mittermeier, former John Wayne Airport director, held the job from 1995 until May 2000, when she was replaced by Schumacher because the board said she was too autocratic.

Schumacher lasted two years in the post before being felled by his hands-off response to a series of internal problems, notably a financial meltdown at the county Planning and Development Services Department.

Had Reilly accepted the offer, he would have become one of the most influential openly gay public administrators in the nation. The leader of a gay and lesbian support group in Orange County said he was pleased to learn about the efforts to bring Reilly to the county.

"It says to the rest of Orange County that this county is willing to accept people who are qualified for their positions and have experience of rising through the ranks and that sexual orientation is not going to be something that gets in the way," said Terry Stone, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center of Orange County.

Reilly said he did not view his sexual orientation as relevant or significant. "I've always been open about it," he said. "People judge me on my competence, how I manage the finances and how I communicate."

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