Blacklock bows out

Popular county administrator resigns, denies it has anything to do with Parilo firing

Blacklock’s background: John Blacklock has spent almost 30 years in government service work. He’s also worked as a property engineer and assistant land manager for a Bay Area company.

Just as the dust was beginning to settle after the surprise firing of Butte County Planning Director Tom Parilo two weeks ago, it was kicked up again—only this time, it’s the county’s chief administrative officer who’s leaving.

John Blacklock, a well-liked and easily approachable executive, announced March 23 in a letter to the Board of Supervisors that he intends to resign effective Sept. 19. Blacklock is essentially the chief executive for Butte County and is responsible for everything from maintaining the county’s $255 million budget to resolving personnel disputes and coordinating projects with the state and Butte County’s cities and towns.

It was a “total shock” to just about everyone at the county offices, said Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi, who reportedly led the charge to oust Parilo.

“I had no inkling whatsoever,” Yamaguchi said. “Everything was fine with him, as far as I was concerned.”

In a letter to the supervisors—his only immediate bosses—Blacklock says that he’s resigning simply because he wants more time to spend with his family. At 56, he said, it’s time to slow down the pace of life. Blacklock, a Magalia resident, has three children, two of whom are grown.

“I have had a rewarding experience over the past nine years,” he wrote in his resignation. “ … [but] it is now time for me to look towards new horizons in retirement.”

At the March 27 Board of Supervisors meeting, though, he hinted that he plans to keep working, although he wouldn’t say in what capacity.

“I want to explore my options, and that’s what I’m doing now,” Blacklock said. “I don’t want to go into any specifics.”

He acknowledged that the timing of his resignation is awkward, given the fact that the supervisors just two weeks ago fired Parilo. But Blacklock maintains that the personnel shifts aren’t related. Blacklock has been discussing retiring for “several weeks” with his wife, he said.

“We’ve been talking about it for quite a while,” Blacklock said in an interview. “Long before Parilo left. I just announced it now because I wanted to give the supervisors plenty of time to find a replacement. … It can take up to five months.”

Even so, there are rumors that Blacklock’s surprise retirement was a pre-emptive move to avoid being fired. The News & Review spoke with an anonymous source two weeks ago, when Parilo was summarily dismissed, who forecasted that Parilo’s firing was “just the first,” and that Blacklock would be next.

If that’s true, it’s hard to figure out why. Blacklock has been a steady and pretty popular executive among county government types. He’s avoided much of the political maneuvering that’s common in the supervisorial seats, since the supervisors are elected positions. And, although the political makeup of the board shifted to the right after Yamaguchi was elected in November, Blacklock himself is generally perceived as a Republican, too. (He worked as a district coordinator for a Republican assemblyman before coming to Butte County.)

Another source suggested that Parilo’s firing may have affected the timing of Blacklock’s decision to anounce his plans to retire.

Chico City Manager Tom Lando dismissed the theory that Blacklock’s resignation was anything but a benign desire to retire. Lando and Blacklock were hired by their respective agencies only about a year apart and worked together almost daily, Lando said.

“He’s an excellent professional administrator," Lando said. "One of the best I’ve ever worked with … but he’s done this job for a long time, and I think he just decided that it’s time to move on and do something different."