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San Benito
May 28, 2024

County shifts some decision making to CAO

San Benito County supervisors Tuesday approved three items that will give more direct spending and hiring authority to the county administrative officer.

It is an effort to streamline processes and make the county function more efficiently, according to officials.

The approved items include no longer requiring board approval on out-of-state travel for employees on trips costing less than $4,000, no longer requiring supervisors’ consent when hiring most department heads, and increasing the dollar amount for purchases that would need board approval.

Supervisors unanimously approved of the items Tuesday. As for specifics on the three proposed changes:

County staff is recommending to end a practice of getting supervisors’ consent for out-of-state travel on all trips costing less than $4,000. Previously, the board had to OK all out-of-state trips. The change reverses a policy put in place during the Great Recession that added a layer of accountability for such travel expenditures.

With the purchasing policy, the recommendation for Tuesday is to let the CAO enter into contracts that don’t exceed $50,000 without supervisors’ consent and for department heads to enter into contracts that don’t exceed $10,000.

As for the proposed policy on hiring of department heads, the recommendation is to allow the CAO to hire most department heads without the board’s consent, with the exception of roles appointed under certain provisions of California law such as the county counsel and agriculture commissioner, according to the agenda.

Officials said the change to the out-of-state travel policy was meant for emergency situations and that supervisors would continue reviewing most cases. There are various levels of approvals for travel. Department heads will continue to approve in-state travel. The CAO can OK out-of-state travel under $4,000, while the board will continue mandated review of trips over $4,000.

As for purchasing and hiring, board members said they believe the changes will put more onus on CAO Ray Espinosa to be accountable.

“This will allow the board, I think, a little more authority to hold the CAO accountable,” Supervisor Jim Gillio said.

Supervisor Anthony Botelho said over his 15 years on the board, the decision-making authority on these matters has shifted toward the elected officials until this point, while Supervisor Peter Hernandez said he thinks of the CAO like a company’s CEO and supervisors more like a corporate board. Medina, meanwhile, said most people wouldn’t want to be held accountable like the CAO.

“If they don’t have that power, they can’t be blamed,” Medina said. “And he’s taking it on.”