Lew steps up after abrupt county manager departure

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Leo Lew is interim county manager as supervisors will soon begin a hunt for a new manager. (Pinal County)

 

Last year, Leo Lew was a finalist for the position of Pinal County manager after the retirement of Greg Stanley. Supervisors instead chose Louis Andersen, who headed the public works department for six years.

Leo Lew (Pinal County)

This week, Lew officially stepped into the role anyway, as interim manager after the departure of Andersen.

The county and Andersen signed a “mutual separation agreement” in lieu of severance Nov. 10, four days after Anderson’s performance evaluation went before the board. Both of those discussions were conducted behind closed doors. In between, Andersen submitted his one-line letter of resignation.

Lew was made acting manager until Andersen’s resignation went into effect at the close of the business day Tuesday. Then, Lew officially became interim manager for the foreseeable future.

A deputy county manager under Stanley and Andersen, Lew has been a county employee since 2009, when he was a budget analyst.

Wednesday, Lew thanked the board for their trust in him, saying, “It is important to remember the values that have gotten us to where we are and to hold onto those that will propel us forward.”

While the board of supervisors has two more meetings this year before three newly elected members join, the hiring process for a new city manager is expected to take much longer. Meanwhile, Lew is taking over issues related to economic development, the budget and COVID-19.

In fact, on his first day as official interim, he announced the county had just closed on the financing of the retirement obligation for deputies, dispatchers and detention officers with an interest rate of 2.61%, saving $69 million over 20 years.

Lew saluted the county managers he worked under, including “no-nonsense guy” Fritz Behring.

“Then, of course, there’s Greg Stanley, easily one of the nicest guys we’ll ever meet,” Lew said. “What was not so easy to see about Greg is he had what we call in the business ‘tough skin.’ It wasn’t that he was a hard man; it was that he didn’t take things personal. He was always looking out for others’ needs.”

Lew said Andersen was not afraid of change.

“If he saw something that needed improvement, he would say and he would take action quickly,” he said. “Importantly, one of the things that he did was, he designed and he set up systems to keep us in sync as a team.”

The details leading to Andersen’s departure have not been made public. The county agreed to give him a one-time $150,000 payment, and Andersen waived his claim to any vacation, sick leave and other benefits in his contract.

The separation agreement includes common severance phrasing: “Employee and the County agree that the payment of consideration as specified in this Agreement is made solely for the purpose of purchasing peace and eliminating possible involvement in protracted litigation based upon disputed claims that each of the parties could make.”

Two of the three departing supervisors made statements on the vote to accept Andersen’s resignation. Todd House, the only one to vote against the decision, called it an “unhappy day.” Pete Rios thanked Andersen for his service, saying he “kept the county on the straight and narrow and growing economically in spite of coronavirus.”