Michael Kennedy, who was director of Sonoma County’s mental health services division for nearly a decade before he went on paid administrative leave in early March, resigned from his position more than five weeks ago after brokering a settlement deal with the county governing terms of his exit.
The details of his resignation and the settlement deal came to light this week through a public records request filed by The Press Democrat. His job status had been in question since his leave began March 5, shortly after his superiors in the Department of Health Services backed off a controversial proposal to dramatically reduce its mental health and substance abuse staff by nearly 32 positions to partly close a $2.6 million budget gap.
Sources in the local mental health community, including county staff members, say Kennedy opposed many of those cuts. Kennedy’s boss, Barbie Robinson, director of the health services department, has blamed inaccurate revenue projections, increasing costs and declining revenue for the fiscal crisis.
But the settlement reached by Kennedy and the county prohibits either side from elaborating on such allegations or counter claims by Kennedy. It also curbs any investigation into his conduct on the job by the county and absolves him of any wrongdoing, stating that “there has been no finding of any misconduct on his part.”
Kennedy and Robinson declined to comment about the circumstances surrounding his departure and the negotiations that resulted in the settlement. It extends his paid leave to July 5, when Kennedy will be allowed to use any unused sick leave and then any unused vacation to “accrue service credit for purposes of retirement.”
He earned $176,820 in pay and $39,152 in benefits in 2016, according to county payroll records. His 2017 compensation was not made available this week.
Under the terms of the settlement, Kennedy, 62, will not be allowed to return to work for the county or any of its agencies or districts.
Kennedy’s division is proposed to shoulder the bulk of a proposed set of Health Services staffing cuts amounting to $8.2 million. Up to 107 vacant and filled jobs could be cut. The Board of Supervisors will take up those decisions in hearings starting next week.
Kennedy submitted his resignation letter on April 30 and Robinson responded in writing on May 11.
“This is to confirm that you have voluntarily resigned in good standing from the County of Sonoma Department of Health Services,” Robinson wrote in her letter.
Robinson declined this week to say who was responsible for the years of budget deficits in the county’s behavioral health division, which provides mental health and drug abuse services. In an email Thursday, she said responsibility for the shortfall was “a shared one” and that the county was taking full responsibility for it.
“There will be no finger-pointing or placing blame on any one person or department or division,” Robinson wrote.
Kennedy, reached by phone in Santa Rosa, would not discuss the specific reasons for his paid leave or resignation. He said that he started thinking about leaving his post shortly after the wildfires last October. That was when health services officials began signaling the need for staff and service cuts. But Kennedy would not say if his decision was directly related to the proposed cuts.