Sacramento County’s next CEO must match our times

Brad Hudson is leaving after four years as Sacramento County CEO.
Brad Hudson is leaving after four years as Sacramento County CEO. Sacramento Bee file

The announcement Friday that Sacramento County CEO Brad Hudson is leaving may have come as a surprise even to some of his bosses, but it’s the right move for him and the county.

After four years, a change of leadership is in order. Hudson’s mindset no longer seems a good match for the county, or the state of the world.

It’s no secret that he was friendly with developers and a cheerleader for more suburban growth, including the ill-advised 2,700-acre Cordova Hills project that county supervisors approved in 2013. But we’re in the middle of a historic drought, and climate change is an overarching issue.

Also, at a time when collaboration is crucial to progress on big issues, Hudson was too much of a lone wolf. He and City Manager John Shirey, his opposite number in the county’s largest city, did not cooperate often.

The next county executive must be much more attuned to those realities.

Phil Serna, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, told a member of The Bee’s editorial board that he’s “definitely and unequivocally” looking for a leader who understands the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging transit and smart growth.

Those are crucial skill sets. The next CEO also needs to be more cooperative with other officials in the county and more media savvy.

It’s more likely that the county will end up with a leader with those qualities if the selection process is as open as possible. Ideally, the finalists would be named and questioned at a public hearing. Serna wouldn’t commit to that, but did say he would consider a citizens panel interviewing the finalists in private.

With Hudson starting his new job as head of an unnamed Orange County company on Jan. 23, the county will have an interim CEO. A successor should be in place by late spring.

Selected after a secretive process, Hudson came to Sacramento County in 2011 after two decades as an administrator in Riverside County. He immediately raised eyebrows with a $21,000 refurnishing of his office, including a $78 shoe polisher – a tone-deaf move when the county was still in a budget crunch.

Hudson can claim some accomplishments: reinvesting in health and social services, cleaning up neighborhoods and streamlining some county operations. But he mishandled a review of the troubled county election office, as well as county marijuana growing regulations and a lucrative red-light camera contract.

Hudson’s tenure started with some controversy, and it’s ending with a tiff over how his departure was made public Friday.

Serna says that as chairman, he should have been given advance notice and a chance to speak on behalf of the board. Instead, only Supervisor Susan Peters was quoted in the press release, and she praised Hudson as “extremely responsive,” “innovative” and “a problem solver” whose “strong leadership has served us and the communities we represent very well.”

But Serna said that doesn’t reflect the assessment of other supervisors, and certainly not him. It’s possible that Hudson’s contract, set to expire next August, wouldn’t have been renewed. Supervisors held an unusual number of closed sessions in the fall on his job performance.

The county’s top administrator is a tough job in the best of circumstances. Without the full support of supervisors, it’s impossible. Hudson’s successor needs to quickly earn that confidence.

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