November 26, 2022
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Ventura County supervisors appoint behavioral health director as interim CEO

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The Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on March 22 to appoint Sevet Johnson, the director of the county Behavioral Health Agency, as the interim replacement for retired County Executive Officer Mike Powers.

Powers stepped down on March 10, two days after the board had voted in closed session to place him on paid administrative leave. The following week, the Thousand Oaks Acorn reported that Powers had been the subject of complaints from a female employee of sexual and racial harassment; an outside law firm hired by the count to investigate found that the allegations were substantiated by “a preponderance of the evidence,” which is the typical burden of proof in a civil lawsuit.

On March 22, in addition to appointing Johnson to the interim post as top executive, the board voted to hire a recruiting firm to lead a nationwide search for a permanent CEO, at a cost of up to $75,000.

Sevet Johnson

Johnson is the first Black woman to act as the county’s chief executive. She takes over on March 23, relieving Mike Pettit, who was Powers’ top deputy and has been leading the county’s executive office since Powers was put on leave on March 8.

Johnson is a licensed clinical psychologist and has been with the county since 2009. She is co-chair of the Cultural Competency, Equity and Social Justice Committee for the California Behavioral Health Directors’ Association and is also a lead for the county’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council.

As interim CEO, Johnson will be paid around $335,000 per year, the same salary Powers was earning.

The Board of Supervisors approved her temporary appointment in a closed-session vote on March 22. County Counsel Tiffany North announced the 5-0 vote after the closed session ended, and she also disclosed that the March 8 vote to put Powers on leave was by a 5-0 margin. During that March 8 closed session, North said, the board decided to hold another closed meeting on March 11 to consider possibly disciplining Powers further, or dismissing him, but Powers retired before that meeting could be held.

North’s comments on March 22 were the first public acknowledgement by the county that Powers had been investigated or placed on leave. Though an expert in California’s open meeting laws told the Business Times that the county’s lack of disclosure appeared to violate state law, North said on March 22 that she still believes “no announcement was required under the Brown Act on March 8.”

North also said the county has no plans to release the investigator’s report that was cited in the Acorn’s article. The report is covered by attorney-client confidentiality, she said.

“Maintaining the privacy of this investigation report is necessary to ensure that all employees feel they can report misconduct and speak freely in future investigations without fear of retaliation and without fear of publicity,” North said.