County picks new CAO

Experienced candidate arrives with some baggage

THE NEW BOSS Paul E. McIntosh takes over as Butte County’s chief administrative officer on April 22, 2002.

THE NEW BOSS Paul E. McIntosh takes over as Butte County’s chief administrative officer on April 22, 2002.

Courtesy Of St. Petersburg Times

Been there, done that:One of McIntosh’s first jobs upon arriving in California in 1981 was at a Bay Area firm contracted to assess the needs for a new Butte County jail facility.

Butte County has a new chief administrative officer, a man with extensive experience in Northern California politics who is also no stranger to controversy.

The Board of Supervisors announced Tuesday that it had unanimously selected Paul McIntosh, 50, to manage county government.

McIntosh arrives fresh on the heels of a conflict he had with his former employer, Hernando County, Fla., that ended with him taking a settlement worth $65,000 in exchange for his resignation. According to news accounts, the settlement was the culmination of a series of events that seemed to erode McIntosh’s approval by Hernando County officials.

In a phone interview from Florida Tuesday, McIntosh said peculiarities in Florida’s system of government had made his job there very difficult. He also said he was looking forward to returning to California, where he started his career in 1983, as deputy administrator for Solano County. (He also managed El Dorado County for close to seven years and Mohave County, Ariz., for two years before taking the Florida job in May of 2000. Originally from Indiana, McIntosh has a master’s degree in public administration from Indiana University.)

“You’ve got to understand Florida politics,” he said. “They have a very different approach to politics, [one that] is very much a product of the South. The state that brought you the 2000 election is alive and well.”

McIntosh is credited in Hernando County for cutting taxes, improving roads and attempting to reorganize county departments. He was given a very favorable review by county commissioners after a little more than a year on the job. But he raised concern when he tried to parlay the review into a 14.5 percent pay raise, on top of his guaranteed 5 percent annual increase. The raise was denied, but his contract was renewed for another three years. Just three months later, the contract was shortened by two years after questions arose over some of McIntosh’s dealings with certain county contractors.

Much of what caused McIntosh’s problems in Florida seems to have come from his acceptance of gifts from influential local businesses. An inquiry by the Florida Attorney General’s Office found nothing wrong with McIntosh’s acceptance of a gifted round of golf, paid for by a utilities consultant who also contracted with the county. But the county’s attorney found the gift to be a technical violation of a conflict-of-interest policy. Hernando County commissioners later deemed the policy unfair and asked that it be rewritten.

During that time, McIntosh also came under fire for his handling of a personnel matter in which a county department head was forced to resign over the botched evacuation of a county building during an anthrax hoax last October.

McIntosh firmly denied any wrongdoing, saying that Hernando County supervisors had a tendency to dwell on “non-issues” and that the scandal might have died down were it not for a series of articles generated by two highly competitive local newspapers. When one of the papers found that he had accepted other gifts, mostly tickets to local sporting events, some of the commissioners tried to vote him off the job but failed, splitting the vote 3-2. By that time, McIntosh said, Florida’s “haphazard approach” to local government had begun to wear on him.

He reportedly sought positions in two Florida counties before accepting Butte County’s offer, which gives him a three-year contract with a salary of $110,000 plus benefits. McIntosh made about $9,000 less in Hernando County last year.

He said he looked forward to working with the board and was eager to start on his first assignment, creating the new county budget.

Most of Butte County’s supervisors were unavailable for comment Tuesday, but Chico’s Mary Anne Houx said McIntosh’s record, experience and demeanor impressed her.

Lawrence Odle, outgoing interim CAO, commended the board on its choice and on the process that went into making it. He said reports of McIntosh’s troubles with Hernando County were no indication that McIntosh would have any problems here.

“I give little credence to issues that appear to be mere speculation,” Odle said. “In these [county government] positions, the issues come fast and furious. They are political; they affect a lot of people. You know that anytime you make a decision, you will make some people happy and some people sad.”

According to reports published by Florida’s St. Petersburg Times, McIntosh made both friends and enemies in previous county administrator stints. In Mohave County, Ariz., where McIntosh held an administrator’s position from late 1997 to early 2000, his can-do approach reportedly alienated county supervisors, who failed to renew his contract after some of the ambitious projects he took on caused friction on the board.

In Arizona, McIntosh stepped into a community that, like Butte County, has issues with growth and a sometimes-sputtering economy. He immediately began making long-range economic-development plans for the county that included the building of a multibillion-dollar power plant and the creation of new county office buildings. He reportedly shook up the board when he fired the county personnel director, who was a friend of a board member. Some also criticized him over failed county attempts to improve its health care coverage.

Although some board members criticized him (one reportedly said he spent money “like a drunken sailor"), other county officials who worked with McIntosh praised him in newspaper accounts, saying he never got a fair chance to finish the projects he had begun. Mohave County did not fare well in McIntosh’s absence, slipping into what one county supervisor called “near-bankruptcy.”

Reports of McIntosh’s tenure as CAO of El Dorado County are similarly mixed, with some people praising and some criticizing his performance. Newspaper accounts suggest that turbulent politics in the region finally took their toll on McIntosh, who accepted a $90,000 severance package and vacated his post in 1995, after serving the county for almost seven years.

McIntosh said he looked back fondly on his tenure in El Dorado County, which was one reason he was so eager to come back to California.

“It’s a different lifestyle,” he said. “My kids basically grew up Placerville, and they consider that area home.”

McIntosh, who takes office April 22, is married with two teenaged children, a boy and a girl. He is currently looking to rent a temporary residence in Butte County and will send for his family in a few months. He has not yet decided where he will settle, saying, "My wife will have to make that decision."