County may pick 2 to temporarily lead public works department

An interim appointment to one of Sonoma County government's most embattled jobs — transportation and public works director — could go to two people under a proposal to be considered today by the county Board of Supervisors.

The unusual move comes after last month's retirement of Phil Demery, who led the department for more than five years.

Under the proposal, two of Demery's deputies, Susan Klassen and Tom O'Kane, temporarily would replace him. Both would get a temporary 5 percent raise, increasing their monthly salary to $13,998, or about $168,000 a year.

County officials said they expect the board to appoint a permanent successor in late February or March.

Klassen and O'Kane have applied for the director's position, which pays $152,359.76 to $185,190.16 a year. The application period closed Monday, and the county is paying an executive search firm $25,000 to conduct a nationwide recruitment process.

County Administrator Veronica Ferguson defended that expenditure, saying it would improve the pool of candidates that Klassen and O'Kane will compete against. The same practice was used for recent managerial selections overseeing county legal, agriculture and personnel departments, she said.

"It enables us to know we hired the best person for the job," she said.

Ferguson also defended the dual interim appointment, a rare but not unprecedented move.

The county would have spent less promoting just one official on an interim basis, she acknowledged. But it also could have spent more by hiring an outsider to run the department for several months, she said.

"We actually believe we'll be saving money this way," she said.

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