Malinen out, Wesley Shryock hired as interim general manager for Bear Valley CSD; Terry Quinn resigns from board
Bear Valley Community Services District has a new general manager, and if you wonder how long 35-year-old Wesley Shryock has lived in the community, consider this — somewhere in Bear Valley Springs is a home with marks on a wall showing his height at different ages.
Except for time away for college, he’s lived in BVS since 1987. If you do the math, you realize that’s pretty much all of his life.
Officially Shryock has been hired as the interim general manager. Last Thursday night, he took over the job held by William Malinen. In March, Malinen gave the district four months’ notice of his retirement and noted that he believed that would get the district through budget preparation for the coming fiscal year. He had been with the district since September 2018 and previously worked in top city management positions in California, Washington, Minnesota and Missouri.
But early in Thursday night’s meeting of the CSD’s board, attorney Adam Lingren announced that during a closed session that ran past its scheduled time and delayed the start of the open session by 40 minutes, the board and Malinen had agreed to part company immediately.
He remained in the board room until public comments were finished and then made a brief statement. Malinen thanked the current and prior boards and said he wanted to let the community know he’s retired — and looking forward to it.
“It’s bittersweet, right? I love the place,” he said. “I love to work. I love our employees. They are the best people, and I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the greatest community, and I appreciated the support from everyone — the ideas, the comments, the engagement.”
‘REEKS OF DISHONESTY’
The board has held four meetings with closed sessions to consider how to fill the GM position since Malinen’s announcement that he planned to retire.
The district did not advertise for the position or the interim position that was filled by Shryock last Thursday by a vote of 3-1-1 with Director Martin Hernandez voting no, Director Terry Quinn abstaining, and Directors John Grace, Charles Jensen and Geva Frevert voting yes.
The agenda item to approve a $175,000 per year contract for Shryock drew criticism from some members of the public during comments at the board meeting, although at least one commenter said to “give Wes the benefit of the doubt.”
But Director Martin Hernandez had the harshest criticism, which he noted was not directed at Shryock but at the process supported by the majority of the board.
“Fiduciary duty requires board members to stay objective, unselfish, responsible, honest, trustworthy and efficient,” Hernandez said. “Board members are stewards of public trust, and as such, must always act for the good of the organization rather than to benefit themselves.
“This proposed action of a public employee appointment has none of those requirements,” he continued. “It is not objective, it is not responsible, it reeks of dishonesty and untrustworthiness and is inefficient at best.”
He said he had objected to the board’s interview and appointment process.
“Objections like, ‘what’s the hurry? Let’s take a couple of weeks and open it up to the community to see if there is someone with more municipal or government experience, willing to be an interim GM, that may want to interview,” he said.
Hernandez said he told board members it’s important to foster transparency and trust in the community.
“I was met with a resounding, ‘No, this kind of thing is done all the time,’” he said. “In my 20-plus years of government experience, I have never seen a recruitment process done with such disregard for the community.” His experience includes more than 18 years working for Ventura County and time as mayor and a city council member for the city of Santa Paula.
He noted that the district’s legal counsel was not present during Shryock’s interview and that no background check was done on the candidate prior to offering a contract.
“Background checks are always done on executives at this level to reduce the risk of liability to the district,” he said. “Professional recruitment firms do this for each candidate prior to any interview being held as standard practice.”
Among other allegations, Hernandez said the board’s action was inefficient.
“The timing is all wrong,” he said. “This does not have to happen until July. It’s not urgent… By offering an interim GM a start date of today, with a salary beginning at $175K a year, plus benefits, plus a car allowance and plus retirement, that’s an extra expense of almost $30K for the next two months, on top of our current GM’s cost. My colleagues up here are opposed to investing $25K to hire a professional recruitment firm to bring us a pool of highly experienced and qualified general manager candidates. Yet they are willing to spend an extra $29K for the next two months for someone with no municipal or special district management experience, nor government finance experience. The learning curve along for someone that lacks the necessary experience to run a district could increase legal and liability costs to the taxpayers well into the hundreds of thousands.”
Board President Grace, in introducing the agenda item to approve the contract with Shryock, said that the process had been “by the book, in case anybody has any concerns about that.” He said that Shryock was a proven leader known to many people in the community through his work as general manager of the Bear Valley Springs Association.
“He has proven himself time and time again in that organization,” Grace said, “to deliver top-quality amenities and top-quality of life for us, and he studies leadership. He leads from the front, and he will, in my opinion.”
Grace said that Shryock had left his job with the BVSA to come over to the district in an interim capacity “at great risk to himself. He is going to be — for whatever time he is here — an asset to this position.”
Grace and the other two board members who voted to approve the contract did not otherwise respond to the comments Hernandez made. Jensen thanked Shryock for “the fortitude to be where we are now.”
With the approval of the contract, the board did require that Shryock pass a background check, although it was unclear how quickly that might be completed.
Shryock said he has worked for BVSA for about nine years, following a career in accounting and entrepreneurship. He worked in progressively responsible positions, including assistant general manager, before being appointed to the GM position. The BVSA is advertising that position with a salary range of $122,000 to $160,000 per year, depending on experience. The job announcement does not note what benefits may be included for the position. As a private organization, BVSA employees are not eligible for CalPERS benefits.
The contract approved by the district board for the interim general manager is for no more than two years. If the agreement is not extended or renewed at the end of the two-year term, he will have no right to receive any severance payment.
The annual base salary is $175,000, which is $14,583.33 per month plus reimbursement for reasonable and necessary travel outside the district. The contract also provides for a vehicle allowance of $6,000 per year (which is $500 per month or $250 per pay period) for the use of the interim GM’s personal vehicle for routine local area travel. This is in addition to reimbursement for actual mileage incurred in traveling in excess of a 75-mile radius or 150mile round trip from the district’s office.
Those benefits do not preclude the use of district vehicles, fuel or equipment for district business purposes.
The interim GM will also be provided with a district laptop and district-issued cell phone, with the cost of service for business use covered by the district
Other benefits include employer contributions to CalPERS retirement, which may require an employee contribution, and the same group health, dental, vision life and other group insurance offered to the district’s exempt employees or an in-lieu cash payment. The district will also provide the interim GM with a life insurance policy.
Shryock made a statement following the board’s approval of his contract and said he appreciates the opportunity to serve the BVS community at the CSD and also his time with the BVSA.
“I have been lucky to work with some of my favorite people over the last nine years as a general manager (and) as Mr. Grace aptly pointed out, my leadership style is from the front. I like to work long hours. If my folks were out in the middle of the night, I will be out in the middle of the night. It is my intention is to be as supportive as humanly possible to the staff members that have dedicated themselves to Bear Valley Springs. It will be a long and hard journey, but that is what I signed up for.”
He said it was “an absolute pleasure to grow as an individual and professional in such an amazing environment” at the BVSA.
“From a personal perspective, the benefit does not outweigh the cost for me to make this transition,” he said. That is the god’s
honest truth from my heart. However, the benefit is the potential to heal divides between entities, heal divides between members, heal divides between employees. And I hope that through hard work, a positive attitude and a lot of time restoring relationships, we can start to work in a capacity that this valley truly can do and would be really special. That is my intent.”
He seemed to be acknowledging comments by Director Hernandez, also.
“Some of the directors welcome me with open arms, some have concerns that excite me,” he said. “It means there’s a big job ahead of me. I like big jobs, I always have, and I intend to do the same here as I have in the past — which is to put forth effort, attitude and surround (myself) with great people. There’s an extensive amount of great people in this office and around the district. The responsibility of being a leader to this district was offered to me, and I fully intend to rise to the occasion.”
Director Quinn held the news of his planned resignation until the end of the meeting.
“My wife and I have reached an age when maintaining four acres of property is beyond our capabilities,” he said. “Likewise, we reached an edge when our tolerance for the antics of the government of the state of California is exhausted.”
He said his resignation would be effective at the close of the meeting.
The board will have an opportunity to appoint someone to fill his position or may choose to call a special election. In May 2022, when a former director — Jay Carlyn — resigned, Directors Grace and Jensen concurred with community member Frevert that with such a short time before the election, the board should not make an appointment, apparently to avoid giving an appointed incumbent an advantage in the election. Quinn and former board member Greg Hahn voted to move forward with an appointment, and the board deadlocked with the result that the position was left vacant until the November 2022 election.
Frevert ran for a board seat and was elected in November 2022, along with Hernandez. Quinn was reelected.
“I am confident that the board will decide that a special election for my position is appropriate,” Quinn said. He said when he ran for reelection, he had every intention to serve out his full term. “However, no life path is totally predictable,” he said.
Directors did not comment on how his position might be filled.