Wednesday, June 18, 2008

County names new chief administrator

After months of closed-door discussions and interviews with candidates, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors announced Tuesday that a county manager from Minnesota will replace of retiring chief John Cullen.

After a closed session, the supervisors unanimously appointed David Twa, county chief for Ramsey County, as the new county administrative officer who will take over around September. Supervisors must still complete a compensation package for Twa and should discuss financial details at their next meeting, Cullen said.

"We were looking for someone who had financial expertise, as well as experience dealing with labor," supervisor Susan Bonilla said of Twa, a certified public accountant and attorney. "He's also versed in health care reform issues."

A marathon runner, Twa will need the stamina to tackle all of Contra Costa's financial challenges, including expiring county employee union contracts and a budget already lopped by $52 million, with more cuts looming as the state adjusts its financial house. He will also inherit an unfunded employee health care liability estimated at $1.7 billion over the next 30 years.

"I'm excited to come to a county with a good reputation," Twa said in a phone interview from Minnesota. "My last child out here is starting law school in the fall, so it's a good time to make a move.

With no larger Minnesota counties to run, Twa said he was looking for a challenge and he was aware of Contra Costa's Advertisementdire financial picture.

"There's a perfect storm between its (employee health care) liability and cuts from the state and federal level, and there's still a lot of work to do with the unions to get contracts," he said.

Twa oversees a diverse, urban county of about a half-million residents, including the St. Paul area, said supervisor John Gioia. He also tackled one of the state's largest employee health care liabilities, Gioia said, though nothing near Contra Costa's figures.

"The great thing is David Twa is solid and experienced with a humane quality to him. I think that's the type of guy we're looking for," the Richmond supervisor said.

Board chairman Federal Glover said the search — which began in late October after Cullen announced he would retire when his contract ended in September — narrowed the field to three finalists. Supervisors interviewed Twa twice and he beat out the other candidates with his wealth of experience, Glover said.

"From a strategic standpoint, I think he has lots of tools and skill sets to tackle what we're facing here in Contra Costa County," Glover said.

Hired in 2006 at an annual salary of $231,000, Cullen guided the county through some tough financial waters, said Supervisor Mary Piepho.

"We look for Mr. Twa to continue the positive direction and continue to stabilize the financial structure so we can focus on service delivery in this very tough economic environment," she said.

Twa has been Ramsey County's chief officer for five years, and had the same duties in three other Minnesota counties over a 20-year period. He was named County Manager of the Year in 2007 by the Minnesota Association of County Administrators. Ramsey County maintained a AAA credit rating under his administration.

Twa, whose county will host the Republican National Convention the first week of September, said he will not be able to leave his post until it is over.

Twa is married and has three adult children.

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