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Home / News / Politics / Riverside board OKs new employment agreement with county CEO

Riverside board OKs new employment agreement with county CEO

by City News Service
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In its final meeting of the year, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a new three-year employment agreement with Riverside County Chief Executive Officer Jeff Van Wagenen Jr., upping his salary in the process.

Van Wagenen, 51, of Riverside, a county employee for over a dozen years, was selected for the top administrative post in February 2021, and the three-year compact between the longtime attorney and county signed at that time was due to expire on Feb. 8.

The latest one — approved 5-0 without comment — takes effect immediately and is due to expire on Dec. 11, 2026.

“In his continued role as county executive officer, Mr. Van Wagenen will continue his commitment to serve the public to improve the livelihood of the residents and businesses in Riverside County,” according to a Department of Human Resources statement posted to the board’s agenda Tuesday.

There was no attempt to seek out potential recruits elsewhere in the state or nation to be interviewed for the job.

Under the new contract, Van Wagenen will receive a base annual salary of $387,000. His initial salary in 2021 was $325,000.

The agreement stipulates that he further will be eligible for annual 4% salary escalators, “upon satisfactory performance as county executive officer.” There additionally will be allowances for vacation time and county-covered health and life insurance benefits, as well as pension coverage.

The agreement can be terminated at any time, but Van Wagenen would be entitled to a severance package that effectively pays him whatever he would be owed in the time left under the contract, according to the terms.

He stepped forward as a candidate for the executive officer position after then-CEO George Johnson announced his retirement in the fall of 2020.

Instead of quickly naming a successor to Johnson, the board approved a $50,000 contract to retain a Sacramento-based executive headhunting firm to conduct a search for prospects, and in early January 2021, eight finalists, including Van Wagenen, were interviewed.

Prior to entering county service, he was a defense attorney and was part of the county registry of lawyers able to be appointed in lieu of public defenders when the latter had conflicts or caseloads that prohibited them from taking clients, including those facing capital murder charges.

Van Wagenen was added to the public payroll in 2011 when then-District Attorney Paul Zellerbach hired him to be his chief of staff. Zellerbach left office in December 2014, and Van Wagenen was hired to fill several positions in the county Economic Development Agency.

He then worked in various other capacities, including assistant county CEO overseeing public safety agencies.

The CEO position requires directing all budgetary matters, recommending and implementing policy changes and resolving interdepartmental conflicts.

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