Review urged for Merced County CEO

MERCED -- Merced County Supervisor Deidre Kelsey has called for a performance review of county Chief Executive Officer Larry Combs.

Kelsey issued a stern four-minute statement at last week's supervisors meeting, saying Combs' actions during his first four months in the office "bring into question who works for whom in Merced County."

The District 4 representative said she has concerns about poor communication, a lack of budget information and the creation of new policies outside of negotiations with the county's union.

"What has happened to the board setting such policy decisions as our health care plan?" Kelsey asked.

"When did this board make a decision regarding creating superagencies? Apparently there is someone out there discussing combining departments into superagencies, and this board has never had an agendized discussion regarding this matter," she said. "Again, I ask, who is sailing this ship?"

Combs sat quietly during her comments, which came at the end of an otherwise short board meeting.

Combs started work as the county's chief executive Nov. 30. He was scheduled to have a performance review before May 31 and once a year during his employment.

Kelsey asked the county attorney to move the evaluation to March 30, the date of the next supervisors meeting.

James Fincher, the county's in-house counsel, said Friday that the item will be on the next closed- session agenda.

When reached by phone, Combs said he looked forward to meeting with the supervisors.

"Supervisor Kelsey laid out some concerns she has. We will discuss them in closed session and I'm sure everything will be fine," Combs said.

On Friday morning, Kelsey stood by her assertions.

"I have been frustrated and concerned," she said.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2703 issued a statement in response to the events.

It reads, in part: "We share many of the concerns raised by Supervisor Kelsey, and we were pleased to hear these concerns raised. It's unbelievable that there is still no budget information coming out from the CEO's office, and it's unacceptable that requests for budget information from the people elected to oversee the operations of this county have been ignored."

The union statement called for more light to be shed on county business and to move away from policies it says are modeled after Sutter County, Combs' former employer.

"It's our understanding that a lot of the issues are modeled on practices from Sutter County. Well, we're not Sutter County. Just because things were done a certain way in another county does not mean that it's appropriate to apply those ways to Merced County."

Combs signed a four-year contract worth $205,000 a year Oct. 27. It includes a buyout clause that would pay full salary and benefits for six months if he is fired without cause.

Combs is the fifth chief executive officer to serve the county in 50 years.