County gets new chief— for now

The Board of Supervisors announced Tuesday that it has hired an interim chief administrative officer—but not without a fair amount of controversy.

The board’s pick is Lawrence Odle, who has served as director of the Air Quality Management District for five years. The board voted 3-2 to offer him a four-month contract for the position, which has been vacant since John Blacklock retired on Sept. 16.

The vote to give Odle the temporary job didn’t come easy. Supervisors spent two hours in closed session deliberating the issue (along with several other items on their closed-session agenda) before emerging with news of the appointment. Curt Josiassen (who proposed Odle’s name for consideration), Bob Beeler and Kim Yamaguchi voted for the appointment, and Jane Dolan and Mary Ann Houx voted against it.

Beeler and Yamaguchi left the meeting before commenting on the appointment, but Houx and Dolan openly admitted their displeasure with it. Houx called the decision “not good” and said that Odle is under-qualified for the county’s top administrative position.

“He has 10 people working for him at the AQMD and a budget of less than $10 million,” Houx said. “Here, he’s got 2,000 employees and a budget of $283 million. It doesn’t fit.”

Dolan hinted that her colleagues on the board had coordinated their votes on the issue long before the meeting. She also said that the vote was very similar to the highly contentious 3-2 surprise vote last spring to fire Development Services Director Tom Parilo in the way the discussion went.

“I’d say [Odle] has known he had the votes for a week or so,” she said. “ … [It was like the Parilo discussion], but not as quick.”

Reached at his office in the afternoon, Odle said he was aware the board had acted on the interim CAO position and at this point it is subject to the AQMD’s board agreeing to let him take a leave of absence to fill the job.

Odle said he expects to receive a three- to six-month leave in order to “stabilize” the situation.

“I don’t think I can put a month limit on how long it will take,” he said. “There are a lot of issues to consider.”

He said he would recommend that his assistant at the AQMD, Jim Waggoner, fill in as his replacement.

“There are a lot of issues that would have to be resolved before I would have the tendency to take it as permanent position. I was considering it at one time but I withdrew my candidacy because of a family situation.”

He said his father in Southern California took ill, and that caused him to reassess his plans.

"I think obviously it was an interest I had at one time, but family must be a priority in our lives."