James D. Harnett, who joined the office of the county agricultural commissioner fresh out of college in 1955, was named Tuesday as the new commissioner, a job paying $50,648 a year.
Harnett, 54, of Orange, takes over Friday, succeeding William Fitchen as agricultural commissioner and sealer of weights and measures.
Fitchen started with the county in 1941 as a pest control foreman, served in the military during World War II and rejoined the agricultural office in 1948. He is the longest serving county employee and has been commissioner since 1958.
Harnett was graduated from Cal State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo in 1955 after majoring in horticultural services and inspection.
"I started at the bottom, as an inspector" for the county agriculture department "and worked through every phase of inspection," Harnett said after his appointment by the Board of Supervisors was announced.
"We are kind of an unknown department, an unknown office," he said. "People don't know much about us."
The 45-person agricultural department controls pests preying on fruit and vegetables, inspects users of pesticides and monitors nurseries to ensure that plants and shrubs are properly labeled and pest-free. As sealer of weights and measures, Harnett's jobs include checking scales in supermarkets and stores and gasoline pumps for accuracy.