New chief looks forward to MCAG projects

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMarch 5, 2013 

— The Merced County Association of Governments, a collaboration of city and county elected officials, has a new leader at its helm.

After contract negotiations, Marjie Kirn took her seat as executive director last week.

Kirn's salary is $142,931, a slight decrease from her $149,510 salary as the interim executive director. Kirn's predecessor, Jesse Brown, was making $145,000 a year.

Kirn, who's been with MCAG since 1991, had served as interim executive director since September, replacing Brown, who retired after 25 years.

She said she's looking forward to tackling many MCAG projects this year, and has identified her key goals. At the top of the priority list is the Atwater-Merced Expressway project, Kirn said, adding that it's up for $52 million in Proposition 1B Highway 99 funding.

The project will replace the Highway 99 and Buhach Road interchange, improving transportation to and from Castle Commerce Center.

"It not only benefits Merced County, but also the traveling public," Kirn said.

Kirn said her No. 2 priority is the Los Banos Bypass project. The $250 million venture will bypass about eight miles of road going through Los Banos on Highway 152, she said.

Discussing transportation issues affecting the region is MCAG's No. 1 priority, Kirn noted. Every two years, MCAG's board members are involved with deciding how to use federal funding to improve transportation.

Prior to Kirn's appointment, the recruitment process for the executive director position was met with criticism.

Merced County District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, who is the Board of Supervisors chairwoman, called the process flawed last month during a board meeting. On Friday, Kelsey questioned the need to pour money into a recruitment process, if the decision to hire someone from within had been made.

"I would have felt differently if I knew the board would have decided to hire from within," she said, adding that the decision to appoint Kirn wasn't unanimous. "Other people spent a lot of money, time and energy to do a recruitment process."

Other elected officials, such as Los Banos Mayor Mike Villalta, objected to a special closed-session meeting held last month to discuss the position, saying not enough notice was given for all governing board members to attend.

However, Kirn maintained that the recruitment process was fair and the position was advertised nationally. She said she was hired because she's the most qualified for the job.

"I've been in this organization for 20 years," Kirn said. "They applied, interviewed and evaluated me just like everyone else. I have the experience and proven track record to do this job."

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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