Davis named to head Water Agency

By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Grant Davis, the interim head of the Sonoma County Water Agency, has been hired as the agency’s general manager.

The appointment was announced this afternoon by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, who also serve as the agency’s board of directors.

Davis, 48, has served as the agency’s interim general manager for the past year. He replaced Randy Poole, who retired in February 2010 after leading the water agency for 15 years, also serving as its chief engineer.

“I’m absolutely thrilled and honored,” Davis said about his selection.

“Under Grant’s leadership, we’ve seen an enhancement of transparency, an improvement in fiscal management” and leadership in energy and sustainability efforts, said Supervisor Efren Carrillo, chairman of the agency’s board.

Davis’ hiring puts an end to a process that was surrounded with political intrigue a year ago, when then-Supervisor Paul Kelley was widely rumored to be seeking the general manager’s post.

Davis, who joined the agency three years ago as its assistant general manager, was appointed to the interim general manager position after supervisors said the hiring process had been tainted by information leaks.

Kelley would not say if he was ever a candidate in the initial hiring process last year. After retiring from the Board of Supervisors early this year, Kelley confirmed he was not seeking the general manager’s post.

Starting anew with its recruitment efforts this year, the county received 37 applications for the position and supervisors interviewed four top candidates, including Davis, Carrillo said.

A Beverly Hills-based executive search agency ran the hiring process for the county on a $27,000 contract.

Carrillo defended that expenditure, saying it allowed supervisors to weigh the strengths of a wider pool of applicants.

“Going through a search really provides you with the opportunity to bring in those high-caliber professionals,” Carrillo said.

Unlike Poole, who was an engineer, Davis’ speciality is in public policy. He formerly served as executive director of The Bay Institute and as an aide to Rep. Lynn Woolsey as well as other state legislators.

That experience, he said, would help him guide the agency through several near-term projects. Those include an update to the agency’s long-range water supply plan, a federal mandate to lower flows in the Russian River for the benefit of endangered salmon and threatened steelhead, and projects focused on increasing water conservation and reuse.

Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Susan Gorin, who leads the committee representing the agency’s major municipal and district contractors, praised the agency’s collaboration with those contractors under Davis’ tenure.

In 2009, in advance of Poole’s retirement, supervisors split the agency’s top job into two posts, resulting in the general manager and chief engineer positions.

Davis said his lack of engineering background would not be a liability in the general manager post.

“The board of directors realized we have some very capable and responsible engineers,” he said.

The agency, which provides water to 600,000 people in Sonoma and Marin counties, has about 200 employees and a budget of $185 million.

Davis was appointed to a four-year term. His salary is still under negotiation, he said.

The range is $175,902 to $213,804.