At the Lake: TRPA director on the hot seat
Fire ravaged the Tahoe Basin in 2007 and lake clarity continued to decline, even as the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency pursued its most ambitious planning projects.
Those are a few of the year’s events that members of the bistate agency’s governing board will have in mind when it conducts an annual review of Executive Director John Singlaub’s job performance.
Singlaub will ask the board for a modest raise after piloting the agency through one of its most demanding and controversial years. The review is scheduled for the next governing board meeting on Wednesday at the North Tahoe Conference Center in Kings Beach.
After a public backlash against the agency following South Tahoe’s devastating Angora Fire in late June, a few board members said they would evaluate Singlaub’s performance largely on how the agency has dealt with streamlining permitting for fire prevention.
“I don’t mean to pick on John, but I would have liked to have seen more interest in [fire] before it became a disaster,” said Placer County Supervisor Bruce Kranz, who sits on the agency’s 15-member governing board. “Now it’s starting to work. I’m happy with what’s going on.”
Board member Coe Swobe said he thought Singlaub “dragged his feet” on fire-prevention issues.
“I’m very disappointed with his performance in that area,” Swobe said.
Board Vice Chair Allen Biaggi wouldn’t comment on Singlaub’s performance before the review, but acknowledged that the administrator’s job is no easy task.
“I think the executive director’s job is extremely difficult, no matter who has it,” he said. “They have to balance the environmental considerations of Lake Tahoe, the social considerations, the economic considerations.”
Singlaub said he is optimistic about the upcoming review, which will evaluate his performance during the 2006-07 fiscal year.
“I always think that I can do better and the agency can do better,” Singlaub said in a phone interview. “But I think we’re focusing on priorities and trying to get some things accomplished.”
Avoiding catastrophic wildfire is the agency’s No. 1 priority, Singlaub said. In the aftermath of the Angora Fire, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is looking to improve its policies to encourage residents to create defensible space and clear the
way for fire prevention.
“We don’t want to be reacting in a knee-jerk fashion,” Singlaub said. “We’ll think these through.”
But the agency’s staff also have their hands full updating the agency’s 20-year regional plan and code of ordinances. The governing board is also on the verge of approving the controversial Shorezone Ordinance amendments to regulate piers, buoys and other shoreline structures around the lake.
Implementing the direction given him by the 15 local, state and national officials who sit on the governing board is challenging at times, Singlaub said.
“I’m trying to serve the board as a whole and to get to the issues that the whole board wants to work on,” he said. “There are a lot of agreements and a lot of disagreements about what those should be.” Kranz said he thought Singlaub could generally give more consideration to the board’s wishes.
“An executive officer needs to understand what the board’s desires are,” he said.
The review will give board members a chance to share constructive feedback, said agency spokesperson Julie Regan. The staff will summarize a survey of the public, agency employees and the board about Singlaub, and present the results in an executive summary.
Despite the public setting, Singlaub said he’s hoping for candid discussion about his performance and what he can do to improve. Singlaub said he will be asking for a 2.9 percent raise from his $129,168 annual salary, the same percent increase given to agency staff in July to cover rising cost of living.
TRPA legal counsel Joanne Marchetta will also receive a performance review by the governing board at the November meeting. But her review will be conducted in closed session, since the statute requiring public job reviews only applies to the executive director or chief officer of a state public agency.