Pink slipped

Supervisors show county planning director the door

DEVELOPMENT R US <br>Tom Parilo worked for Butte County as Planning Department head since 1997. The department is charged with approving each and every construction project in the county, from home renovations to major building.

Tom Parilo worked for Butte County as Planning Department head since 1997. The department is charged with approving each and every construction project in the county, from home renovations to major building.

Photo by Tom Angel

Looking ahead: The Board of Supervisors will select a temporary Planning Department head at its next meeting on March 2.

It must have been quite a shock when Butte County Director of Development Services Tom Parilo got the news last week: Pack it up, fella, and move on out.

At 50 years old, he’d worked for half his life as a private planning consultant and planning director in Nevada and El Dorado counties. He’d worked for Butte County since 1997, and he was working on a long-term project to make his department more user friendly. Parilo’s contract was renewed just last July until 2004, and he was paid a handsome salary of just over $90,000 a year.

But on March 13, after a routine closed-session meeting of the Board of Supervisors that was benignly billed as a “public employee performance review,” Parilo was shown the door. His departure was unusually swift—county employees are generally given a 180-day notice that they’re being terminated before they actually leave office.

In Parilo’s case, there was no such notice.

While the county is tight-lipped about the “separation” of Parilo, rumors about it are rife around the county and city. Officially, county Chief Administrative Officer John Blacklock released a terse 94-word press release that announces the “separation,” commends Parilo for his years of service, and thanks him for his work on behalf of Butte County’s citizens.

What’s conspicuously absent, though, are the reasons behind Parilo’s sudden dismissal. It’s those reasons that are being whispered about in county hallways. The News & Review spoke with two sources close to county government, who asked to remain anonymous, who related that Parilo’s dismissal was a political power play meant to make it easier for big business and developers to build in Butte County.

Furthermore, they said, several supervisors from the more rural parts of Butte County thought Parilo spent too much time working on projects to improve the infrastructure and appearance of Chico, to the detriment of Butte County’s less populated areas.

Parilo, they pointed out, had been criticized for requiring developers to “jump through too many hoops” before he’d approve their projects.

It was a sentiment echoed by freshman Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi of Paradise. Elected in November, he tilted the majority of the board—which is officially nonpartisan—to the decidedly conservative and pro-growth persuasion. Yamaguchi, along with supervisors Curt Josiassen and Bob Beeler, voted to oust Parilo, while Jane Dolan and Mary Anne Houx of Chico voted against it.

While he maintained that he “never even heard of Parilo” until after he was elected, Yamaguchi admitted that his office received several complaints from constituents who were unhappy with the service they received from Parilo’s office. Yamaguchi said he wanted to see “a more streamlined review process” for development in Butte County, and for “big business to feel welcome here.”

“In L.A. County, if you want to build, your project will be returned [after Planning Department review] within one day,” Yamaguchi said. “And here, we have projects that are in planning for six to nine months. I think that’s outrageous to the taxpayer.”

Yamaguchi pointed out that the county recently completed a survey—known as the Dougherty Report—that found Parilo’s department to be overly bureaucratic and top-heavy. The report recommended that it be reconfigured, a plan that Yamaguchi said he supports.

“Some counties don’t even have that department,” Yamaguchi said. “That’s something we need to look at.”

Some of Parilo’s own employees also said they weren’t surprised by Parilo’s sudden dismissal. Senior Planner Craig Sanders, choosing his words carefully, said Parilo wasn’t appropriately vigilant about rewriting of the more archaic parts of the county’s General Plan.

“The direction he took didn’t serve to meet the basic requirements of the General Plan,” Sanders said.

The department, leaderless since March 14, is “doing just fine,” Sanders said.

“We all have projects we’re working on, and there are [department] supervisors here,” Sanders said. “We’re just carrying on as usual.”

Several other Planning Department employees, speaking not for attribution, related that Parilo tended to be difficult to work with and rarely had the support of his department’s rank-and-file planners.

Butte County Employees Association representative Rudy Jenkins said his office had received formal complaints about Parilo from several of those employees. Some of the complaints, he said, are four years old.

“It was very difficult to resolve grievances with him,” Jenkins said. “That was my main concern with him.”

Blacklock, related that the county supervisors would choose an interim department head at their next regular meeting.

Parilo, who commuted to Oroville every day from his Nevada City home, could not be reached for comment.