As the Fort Ord Reuse Authority enters the crucial last year before it’s set to sunset, the agency is facing an exodus of its top staffers, including Michael Houlemard who has helmed FORA nearly since its inception.
Taking with them decades of institutional knowledge, these public servants are leaving before the fate of a bill to extend FORA for two more years is decided in Sacramento.
A former Army base the size of San Francisco, Fort Ord is 25 years into munitions cleanup, blight removal and redevelopment for civilian use. Even the biggest defenders of FORA’s record acknowledge much work remains to be done.
A public announcement of the departures came at a July 13 meeting when the 13 local elected officials comprising the FORA board emerged from closed session.
The announcement centered on Houlemard’s retirement. He wanted to leave by September but would be willing to stay through December under certain conditions: that he be allowed to work remotely three days a week; that he be given 20 additional days of paid leave; and that he receive reimbursement of medical insurance premiums until June 30, 2021. (Houelmard’s 2017 wages and benefits totaled $342,022).
Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker, the board chair, opened up Houlemard’s proposal for discussion. When no one spoke up, Parker said, “it seems the board is a little fatigued at the moment.” The real debate had already happened behind closed doors.
Eventually, some board members did speak and they said they supported Houlemard’s conditions because his experience and knowledge were irreplaceable. “The job still needs to be done on the way out,” said Seaside Mayor Ian Oglesby.
Then came Parker’s turn. She was seated right next to Houlemard as she said, in polite bureaucratese, that he’s asking for too much: “As public officials, we have retirement plans that are administered by the state and those are adequate,” Parker said. “I am not comfortable enhancing what is already a good retirement package.” Houlemard remained stoic as he listened.
By a vote of 9-4, the board decided to keep Houlemard on the terms proposed.
He’ll be working without five long-time staffers: his deputy Steve Endsley left to do private consulting; Jonathan Brinkmann, a planner, left to work at Monterey County’s Local Agency Formation Commission; Robert Norris, who served as a principal analyst, retired; Sheri Damon, a risk manager, is now an assistant city attorney in Seaside; and Helen Rodriguez, a financial controller, is down to 10 hours a week.