The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors accepted the resignation of Palo Alto County Director of Veterans Affairs Ron Hersom at their meeting on Tuesday, June 17. Hersom has been the director since 2002.
Supervisor Keith Wirtz thanked Hersom for his years of service.
Speaking for the county's Veterans Affairs Commission, Hersom asked the board of supervisor to approve the recommendation of Cliff Christensen as the new director.
"Cliff is very knowledgeable. He has been on the commission for six years, is a Navy Veteran and has attended the state's Commissioners School in addition to other trainings," said Hersom.
Supervisor Ed Noonan said he questioned the hiring process and asked County Attorney Lyssa Henderson to review the steps taken during the interview process and share her opinion.
Noonan had been present for the interviews.
"The code allows the commission to make the selection and then have it ratified by the board of supervisors. The matter gets fuzzy when a board (of supervisor) member sits in on the interviews."
She suggested the discussions go into closed session, citing Chapter 21.5 (1c).
That section reads "To discuss strategy with council in matters that are presently in litigation or whose litigation is imminent where its disclosure would be likely to prejudice or disadvantage the position of the governmental body in that litigation."
Before a decision was made on going into closed session, Supervisor Wirtz asked for clarification on how the selection took place.
Hersom told the board that two commissioners did not participate in the interviews.
"One commissioner did cast a vote, but did not participate in the interviews," said Hersom.
Supervisor Craig Merrill asked if it was common for a person currently sitting on a commission to apply for the director job. "I am coming from the standpoint that it seems like a conflict of interest."
Supervisor Merrill made the motion to go into closed session, but the motion died for a lack of a second.
Hendersen stated she believed the likelihood of litigation was minimal and the success of litigation was minimal.
Chairperson Ed Noonan said he recommended not approving the recommendation and redoing the interviews. Henderson indica- ted she had made the same recommendation to Ron Hersom.
Henderson asked Hersom if the hiring decision had been made before the interviews.
Hersom replied no, stating that the only thing that had happened was the commissioner unable to be at the interviews had signed a letter in support of Cliff Christensen.
"I want to clarify to the board why the commission made the selection," said Hersom. "Cliff has served on the commission, attended the schools required and filled in for me when I have been gone. He is familiar with the individuals and has experience with those who come in for face to face meetings."
Before making the motion to approve the commission's recommendation, Supervisor Ron Graettinger said he felt the interviews should have been delayed until all the commissioners were available.
Supervisor Wirtz asked if the interviews needed to be redone in order to make the selection legal. Henderson said the process was legal and that code does not actually outline how the interviews are done. The code dictates who makes the recommendation.
She added, "There was also confusion whether the board had an active role in the process. It gave the impression that Ed had a say. Because you were there, Ed as a courtesy, you had knowledge of the process and we have learned a lot about what needs to be done going forward."
In a three to two vote, with Noonan and Merrill voting "no", the Veteran Affairs Commission's recommendation of Cliff Christensen as director was approved.
Christensen's first official day as Palo Alto County Director of Veterans Affairs will be Tuesday, July 1.