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Los Alamos County Council did little Tuesday night to dispel the cloud of uncertainty over the fate of County Administrator Tony Mortillaro. Mortillaro has been the subject of an investigation on unspecified allegations for the past 12 weeks.
Speculation and rumors escalated rapidly in the last week as the independent investigation came to a conclusion. First Line Resources, the outside firm that was hired to handle the probe, issued its 135-page report to county council last week.
An announcement about the outcome of the investigation was expected at Tuesday’s county council meeting. However, when councilors emerged from a 90-minute closed door executive session before the regular meeting, they said they had not taken any action and there would not be a public statement. Mortillaro was called in to meet with councilors for about 20 minutes during the executive session.
During the public council session, councilors did agree to meet again behind closed doors next Monday, and then take any action on the results of their deliberations at either the next regular session Tuesday in White Rock or at a special council meeting that has been set for Wednesday, Dec. 15.
Council Chair Michael Wismer said this morning that council will have placeholders at both Tuesday and Wednesday’s meetings “to take a personnel action if council decides to do so.”
Los Alamos has not established a sterling track record in terms of retaining county administrators. In the past 10 years, the county has had five administrators beginning with Jim King. King served during the Cerro Grande Fire, followed by Mary McInerny who was forced out after two years. Donna Dreska came next. Her employment with the county was terminated after 12 months on the job.
Communications Director Michele Frisby of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) in Washington, D.C., said its tenure data shows county administrators stay on the job a national average of 8.1 years.
“The average among what we call our mountain region, which includes Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, our data shows an average tenure of 7.2 years.”
The data Frisby refers to is derived from a 2006 State of the Profession Survey in which 242 counties responded, she said. A total of 2,500 city administrators responded to the survey, which showed they have a national average job retention rate of 7.4 years and Frisby said when you mesh both county and city data, the combined total of 2,774 respondents results in a national average of 7.5 years.
McInerny later returned and served as county attorney for three years before retiring from that post in 2010.
“The majority of council asked me to resign,” McInerny said of her departure in 2003 from the county administrator post. “This is a tough job and a tough place to be an administrator – it’s a very demanding job.”
Longtime Assistant County Administrator Max Baker stepped into the acting administrator role throughout the years during the various searches for a replacement.
While the county charter lists the administrator as serving an “indefinite” term, Baker successfully negotiated a five-year contract when he sought to take on the top job. He completed his term and retired in 2009.
Mortillaro served as one of Baker’s two assistant administrators for five years. Council appointed him to succeed Baker on Oct. 22, 2009.
Baker’s other assistant administrator, Diana Stepan, filed the unspecified complaints that sparked the current investigation surrounding Mortillaro.
Stepan has remained on paid administrative leave since outlining her allegations in a letter to county council triggered the probe in September.
County Attorney Randy Autio stated at the onset of the investigation in September, that there were no allegations of sexual harassment, or that appeared to be of a criminal nature at that time.
Autio said Tuesday afternoon that a copy of the investigative report, which is currently being redacted, is expected to be released before the end of this week.