The Zone 7 Water Agency Board of Directors hired Santa Clarita water official Valerie Pryor as the agency's new general manager Wednesday night.
The decision to appoint Pryor came after a months-long search for a successor to current Zone 7 general manager Jill Duerig, who is retiring at the end of this month after nearly 11 years on the job.
"We had amazing, amazing applicants," director Sarah Palmer said. "And we finally were able to choose one, and we're quite pleased with that choice."
The board's vote to hire Pryor was 5-0, with board president John Greci and vice president Jim McGrail absent from the meeting Wednesday night in Livermore.
Pryor is scheduled to begin her new role on April 22. Zone 7 assistant general manager Osborn Solitei will serve as acting general manager between Duerig's departure date March 30 and Pryor's first day.
Pryor comes to Zone 7 from Southern California, where she is currently serving as the assistant general manager for the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency, which was formed in January after Gov. Jerry Brown approved legislation uniting the Newhall County Water District and Castaic Lake Water Agency. Before that, Pryor worked for the Castaic Lake Water Agency for nearly 14 years.
Though she was not present at the meeting, Pryor sent a text message to Zone 7 general counsel David Aladjem after the vote, asking him to thank the board publicly for her.
"She's very eager and happy to be working with you," Aladjem said.
In a follow-up interview Friday morning, Pryor told the Weekly, "I’m looking forward to working with the Zone 7 board and employees to continue providing flood control and water supply for the area. I’m also looking forward to moving to the area and getting to know the community."
Pryor said that she is planning to relocate to one of the communities served by Zone 7, though she is not yet sure which one.
The new general manager contract, which runs through March 2021, calls for Pryor to receive an annual base salary of $275,000, with the potential for up to a 5% performance bonus for extraordinary performance, as determined by the board. The base salary includes a biweekly vehicle allowance of $400, to account for her use of a personal vehicle for official business.
The lone public speaker during the item Wednesday raised concerns over the termination clause in her contract, leading to some discussion amongst board members. According to the clause, the Board of Directors could only terminate Pryor's contract if at least six of the seven directors vote in favor, at any time with or without cause.
"What this amounts to, is that two board members could be in effect governing the agency, instead of the majority, which requires four ... I would not call that democracy, I would not call that good public policy," said Dennis Gambs, a retired Zone 7 water engineer and a candidate for the agency's board in the June primary election.
A board discussion ensued, with directors Palmer, Sandy Figuers and Bill Stevens defending the contract, and Angela Ramirez Holmes and Dick Quigley asking for the six-sevenths item to be revisited during an annual review.
Aladjem explained why he had included the six-sevenths provision in the contract. When crafting a contract, he said, you have to balance the need for stability, for someone coming in "to know that they're here for a while," with the board's ability to remove someone not performing adequately.
"My thinking here was that unanimous less one is a good rule," he said.
He added later that the termination clause could not be unilaterally changed, though it could be brought up during Pryor's annual review, and if she agreed the point could be amended.
Palmer expressed her support of the point.
"The removal of a general manager is such an important thing," she said. "As Mr. Gambs so rightly pointed out, it's an extraordinarily important position to the agency. And I would think that a supermajority is absolutely necessary for something like that."
Ramirez Holmes pointed out that a five-sevenths vote would also constitute a supermajority.
"I’m not sure that a five out of seven would cause somebody to not accept a contract," she said.
To this argument, Duerig chimed in and said that she would not have accepted her own contract in 2007 without the six-sevenths termination clause item.
Ultimately, the five directors unanimously approved Pryor's contract.
"We have managed to make a very good choice, I think, in someone who will serve the zone well," Palmer said.
Ramirez Holmes added that the public would have the opportunity to meet Pryor very soon.
Zone 7 is a public agency in eastern Alameda County, and acts as a water wholesaler for water service providers in Pleasanton, Dublin, Livermore and San Ramon's Dougherty Valley along with providing flood protection in the Livermore and Amador valleys.