County supervisors on Tuesday approved a new contract for Chief Executive Officer Jan Mittermeier that reduces some of her powers--but not as much as some critics wanted.
The new contract, which gives the Board of Supervisors authority to ratify Mittermeier's selection of top county managers, caps a yearlong power struggle but leaves unresolved whether she will remain with the county.
The contract, approved on a 3-2 vote Tuesday with Supervisors Tom Wilson and Todd Spitzer dissenting, was a carefully worded compromise crafted by Supervisor William G. Steiner in an attempt to keep Mittermeier on board.
Overall, Mittermeier retains most of her powers under the plan, but her title changes from chief executive officer to county executive officer.
Though Board Chairman Jim Silva originally supported a motion that would have reduced her powers even further, he changed his vote after Mittermeier made it clear she would not accept the offer.
"I'm not happy with some of the items, but I will vote to support her contract," said Silva. "I want Jan as our CEO. [And] what I wanted was for the board to have the opportunity to ratify [selection of] department heads."
After the board vote, Mittermeier said she has not decided whether to accept the contract. "I'm glad that there is an offer on the table for me to consider," she said in a statement read by a county spokeswoman.
Spitzer, who has been Mittermeier's most vocal critic, said he was hoping Silva would oppose the contract and expressed disappointment and anger at Silva's switch.
"As somebody who has respected your integrity, I would have hoped you would have kept to your original vote," Spitzer said to Silva at the meeting.
But other supervisors came to Silva's support, praising him for making a tough but fair decision.
"Jim was willing to compromise," said Supervisor Charles V. Smith. "I think he did that because he was afraid to lose Jan Mittermeier, which is something he did not want to do."
Mittermeier has become a lightning rod for controversy over the past few months. She has even become an election issue: All candidates running for supervisor advocate a reduction in her powers in some way.
She was instrumental in helping the county recover from its historic bankruptcy and has been roundly praised by Wall Street as well as by most of the supervisors for her decisive management style. But Mittermeier has angered Spitzer and Wilson by failing to keep them informed of major decisions--particularly relating to the controversial El Toro airport plan.
Spitzer and Wilson oppose converting the Marine base into a commercial airport, while Mittermeier is considered a major advocate of the effort.
The debate over her contract began with an early morning straw vote, where a majority of the board--which included Silva, Spitzer and Wilson--supported changes in the CEO's powers to hire top managers. The majority supported a plan that would have allowed the Board of Supervisors to veto her selections on a 3-2 vote. Steiner's original contract allowed the board to veto her selection only on a 4-1 vote.
But when Steiner informed Mittermeier of the 3-2 proposal, she told him it was a "deal breaker." The 54-year-old executive has always made it clear that she would not stay if her authority was significantly diluted.
Mittermeier's immediate rejection of that proposal prompted Silva to reevaluate his stand and support Steiner's original proposal for a 4-5 veto when the board returned in the afternoon for a final vote on the contract.
But Spitzer was so angered by Silva's support of the contract that he intends to rescind his reelection endorsement of Silva, who is in a tough run-off election.