Recruiting process for MCAG executive director under fire

Search was 'flawed,' 'not fair' county officials say

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 5, 2013 

— Concerns regarding the recruitment process for the executive director position at the Merced County Association of Governments were raised during the Board of Supervisors' meeting Tuesday.

"The process is really flawed, and I can't just sit by and say nothing," said Chairwoman and District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, who voiced concerns during the board reports.

She said the process was not done correctly and was not fair, leading many to have suspicions about local government. "You need to do things according to the book," Kelsey said during the meeting.

Marjie Kirn was named interim executive director after former MCAG Executive Director Jesse Brown retired in June after 18 years of service.

However, an email sent Monday containing the agenda for an upcoming MCAG meeting referred to "Marjie Kirn, executive director" -- removing the word "interim" from her title. This move was made before an executive director could be approved by the board of directors.

MCAG Chairman Johnny Mays said Tuesday that he's not sure why the "interim" was removed from Kirn's name prior to announcing the new executive director and called it "just a mistake."

Another concerning issue was a last-minute meeting called to discuss the position, Kelsey said.

During the last MCAG meeting, on Jan. 24, the decision to select an executive director was postponed until the next meeting. However, on Friday, an email was sent by MCAG's legal counsel, Emily Haden, calling for a "special meeting" today to consider appointment of a new executive director.

Many elected officials on the MCAG board said they couldn't attend the meeting because of the last-minute notice.

"This is a very important decision, and they need the input of everyone there," said Los Banos Mayor Mike Villalta. "Now they won't have that because of such short notice. I was told there was no rush, and to rush this decision is not the correct thing to do."

Mays said the decision to have the special meeting today, as opposed to waiting until the regularly scheduled MCAG meeting, was not made by him.

"It was counsel's decision," Mays said of the closed-session meeting. "The special session was needed to give counsel more information. I looked into it, but there seemed to be an urgent need, and we're filling the need. Per counsel's request, I felt that it was important to continue."

Public information officer Lori Flanders said "more than six" elected officials confirmed their attendance for the special meeting as of Tuesday night.

The recruitment process also had some flaws, according to Kelsey.

MCAG staff didn't lead the recruitment process because it's a conflict of interest, according to Flanders.

Instead, Merced City Manager John Bramble and his staff, led by former city employee Pat Smith, were selected to recruit for the position -- which reportedly pays $123,000 to $164,000 a year.

In the end, two candidates were presented to the interviewing panel on which Kelsey sits.

"Where's the candidate pool?" Kelsey said. "It's looking like a preselection process, instead of a recruitment process. This is a well-paid position in planning and there should have been ample candidates."

Bramble said it's unknown why more applications weren't received, but the position was listed in a county magazine, regional magazine, the city of Merced website, and national trade publications.

There were 14 applicants, which were narrowed down to the top two who received final interviews. An official announcement of the new executive director is expected "before the next MCAG meeting," Mays said.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or

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