Bob Ham hired for new county affairs position

March 14, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL

Staff Writer

The county has named Bob Ham, executive director of the Coalition of Labor and Business, based in El Centro, as its intergovernmental relations director.

Questions about the position's recruitment procedures were raised when it was announced in September. Others wondered if the position was necessary in a time of state budget cuts.

The Imperial Valley Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the county March 5 to have access to all documents related to the job.


The county turned over questions used by an interview panel for the first round of interviews. The county also turned over its standard interview guidelines.

The county has until the end of today to respond to the rest of the request.

Supervisor Hank Kuiper confirmed the hire Wednesday. The supervisors did not make a formal announcement or vote on the decision at their meeting Tuesday.

"I know we're probably going to take some heat over this," Kuiper said.

He said he wanted the process to be open all along but there are personnel issues involved that need to be confidential.

The position was approved by the board in early November by a vote of 4-1, with Supervisor Wally Leimgruber casting the dissenting vote.

The job description states the intergovernmental affairs director will analyze legislation to determine its impact on county government and supervise assigned staff. The director will work under the county executive officer and coordinate communications between the executive officer, governmental agencies and county staff.

El Centro Mayor Larry Grogan has said he heard there were questions about the fairness of the selection process, as have others.

Leimgruber opposed the position from the start, saying he did not think the county could afford it. Leimgruber said today he continues to take a stand against the position.

"It adds an additional level of bureaucracy that I feel is not needed in a county of our size," Leimgruber said.

He added he is concerned with the way the hiring process was conducted.

"I always want our hiring to be transparent," he said. "We deal with public funds so this must be a public process."

Leimgruber added, "When we hired our CEO that process was made available to the public every step of the way, and this process, I feel, was not."

When asked whether he thinks Ham is the right choice for such a position, Leimgruber responded, "I feel there are others who could have served in this capacity to further the interests of the community."

The salary range for the new position is $78,000 to $99,548 a year, plus expenses that would include travel and staff support.

Supervisor Joe Maruca had qualms about the position in November but voted for the creation of it, with an amendment to the job description stating all money the person generated would be accounted for.

"I would suggest strongly that after one year, if the position did not bring in more money than its salary, the position be removed," Maruca said.

County Executive Officer Ann Capela said she is meeting with Ham today to negotiate salary and determine his start date. Ham also must pass a physical.

Capela thinks the process of hiring was correct and brought out the best person for the job.

This legislative position is necessary because most of the county's budget comes from federal and state money, she said.

"County governments have been relegated to the same status as special interest groups fighting for federal and state money," Capela said.

Ham said he thought the hiring process was done entirely by the book.

"I don't believe I was pre-selected. I was very nervous about it," he said.

Ham said he came under similar scrutiny when he applied for the county executive officer position, now held by his soon-to-be-boss, Capela.

He said the Imperial Irrigation District has two people on staff who handle nothing but legislation on water and electric issues, but the county has to deal with everything, he said.

"I know the legislative process and I know how to make it work for my client," he said.

Ham said he was a lobbyist in private practice for 15 years, then had a similar job with a recycling company and later worked for several years for a state regulatory agency. He also worked twice as a chief consultant to state Assembly legislative committees.

"My primary goal is I want to see the I.V. Press say, ‘Oops, that was a good idea after all,'" he said.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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