THE AX MAN COMETH

COUNTY MANAGER ROY PEDERSON HAS FIRED OR TRANSFERRED ALMOST ALL HIS TOP ADMINISTRATORS. SOME ARE TERRORIZED. SOME ARE SUING.

Joseph Warnas, former director of the county's Department of Materials Management, has filed a claim with the county contesting his dismissal earlier this year.

Warnas, a 22-year county employee, was handed a letter March 18 giving him the choice of quitting or being fired the next day, according to the claim he has filed with the county. The notice gave no reason for his firing, and Warnas was not even allowed to return to his office, the claim states.

Saying his firing was without justification, Warnas is seeking his job back. Neither Warnas nor his attorney would comment on the case.

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Now, Stillwell, too, has filed a claim with the county in an attempt to block Pederson's efforts to replace her. Stillwell and her attorney, Stan Lubin, say that her case, like Collins', focuses on whether Stillwell can be fired by anyone but the Board of Supervisors. As library director, Stillwell is technically head of an independent district that is not part of the county government, and therefore may not be within Pederson's jurisdiction.

Pederson and the county say that Stillwell is not being fired. Citing a 1926 statute that specifies four-year terms for county librarians, Pederson says Stillwell's term has expired and a search has begun to see if a more qualified director can be found.

Stillwell, Pederson says, is more than welcome to apply for the job again. "We have proceeded in conjunction with legal advice and, as far as I know, everything is proper," he says.

So far, Collins, Warnas and Stillwell are the ones most vigorously fighting the way they have been treated since Pederson arrived, but they are far from being alone in their disenchantment with Pederson's rough handling of some personnel matters.

Pederson, current and former county employees note, likes to preach a leadership philosophy of "Total Quality Management," a management mantra of the 1990s that embraces the notion of treating employees and co-workers with friendliness and respect.

"You have to treat people decently," is an oft-repeated Pederson quote, and it is often repeated derisively.

In his handling of Collins, Stillwell, Warnas and others, critics say, Pederson has done anything but act decently.

"There's very definitely a pattern of not dealing with people in a fair and humane manner," says one former longtime employee who was nearing retirement and quit after watching several of her friends and longtime colleagues dismissed with little warning or explanation. Adolfo Echeveste, who was let go as head of the health department earlier this year, characterizes Pederson's management style as "obfuscated and scapegoating and confused, a smoke-and-mirrors kind of approach."
After running the health department for ten years--and being credited by many with saving it from financial catastrophe when he took over--Echeveste says he was willing to accept the prospect that a new county manager would want to name his own director.

But rather than being told it was time for a changing of the guard, Echeveste says, he was "maligned and so destroyed personally and professionally" by comments and criticism Pederson and others made behind his back, both before and after his termination.

"Whether you agree or disagree with the turnover," he says, "at least have some integrity in what you do."
Pederson says he sees no need to defend his handling of various personnel issues, except to the board.

"The board has delegated to me overall responsibility for that," he says. "Virtually every personnel action that occurs in the county--promotion, salary adjustment, disciplinary actions--has to be approved by the board before it is final."
@rule:
@body:Pederson's selection as county manager in 1990 smacked of a political fix from the outset, according to many who were involved in the process. When former county manager Bob Mauney was pressured into quitting, the then-Board of Supervisors opened a nationwide search for a replacement.

At the time, Pederson had been city manager of Colorado Springs, Colorado, for a little more than a year. He had left Scottsdale after a new council decided he was not its kind of guy.

During his eight years in Scottsdale, says former city councilmember Susan Bitter Smith, Pederson had rearranged the city staff to "consolidate his power."

"He came up with an unusual staffing pattern, like multiple managers in different departments and some unique chains of command," says Smith, who acknowledges being part of the council faction that wanted Pederson gone.

Up in Colorado, Pederson apparently was having problems with that city's mayor, Bob Isaac. Isaac, in fact, would later be quoted as saying that Pederson "did nothing to help this city" and described Pederson as an "abusive bully."

As the nationwide search for a new county manager approached the stage when finalists would be interviewed, Pederson--who had not even applied for the job--suddenly showed up in the hunt, under the sponsorship of supervisor Jim Bruner. Bruner had been a Scottsdale city councilmember and Pederson supporter before moving to the county board.

Suddenly, county insiders say, the much-touted, open, nationwide search became a sham. Bruner lined up two more votes on the board, one of them Freestone's. Pederson was in.

Even before the new county manager had officially taken office, Stillwell says, she knew she and the library district were facing new problems.

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