Toll-roads CEO to resign; deal includes $78,845 in paid leave [The Orange County Register :: ]
(Orange County Register (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 11--The chief executive of Orange County's network of toll roads has agreed to resign less than a year into the job, after board members began investigating contracts he signed without their knowledge.
Neil Peterson will remain on paid leave until his resignation takes effect in early June, collecting $78,845 without working, according to terms he negotiated with the toll-road agency.
Peterson was hired in June 2013 to lead Orange County's two major toll-road systems, the Foothill/Eastern (241) and the San Joaquin Hills (73). His $240,000-a-year contract allows the board to fire him without cause if it gives him 90 days of notice, during which he doesn't have to work.
Peterson declined to comment until the board formally accepts the terms of his resignation. "I really can't comment until the board takes action," he said.
The joint boards of the two toll agencies put Peterson on leave late last month. The action came during a special session called after they learned that Peterson and Foothill/Eastern chairwoman Lisa Bartlett had used a budget loophole to quietly sign tens of thousands of dollars in major contracts.
But board members did not give Peterson notice that he would be terminated, said Rush Hill, the chairman of the San Joaquin Hills agency and the mayor of Newport Beach. "It's his resignation," Hill said. He declined to speak in any more detail, saying: "It's a personnel matter that we're not discussing."
The proposed agreement provides that Peterson will continue to accrue vacation time during his paid leave, can keep the contacts on his agency-issued cell phone and can "personally clear out his office."
The deal also guarantees that "all documents produced in the course of considering the matters" leading up to Peterson's resignation will be kept in a sealed envelope marked "Confidential." Future employers who call for a reference on Peterson will be told only the dates of his employment, his job title and that he resigned, according to the agreement.
Board members are scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to accept the terms of Peterson's resignation
"I will not be supporting the settlement," board member and county Supervisor Todd Spitzer said. "It's utilizing the 90-day, no-cause severance provision of his contract. I believe we should be utilizing the for-cause provision." Spitzer said he could not speak in further detail about what led him to that conclusion, because it's a personnel matter.
Toll-road officials cheered Peterson as a leader with the vision to take the agency "to the next level" when they hired him last year. His resume included stints as a transportation consultant and leadership roles with the Los Angeles County transportation commission and public-transportation systems in Seattle and Oakland. He was also the founding CEO of a car-sharing company called Flexcar.
As CEO of the toll-road system, Peterson took over the fight to extend the 241 toll road farther south, oversaw a $2.3 billion debt-refinancing plan and saw toll-road ridership improve as the economy recovered. "During his time, while it was relatively short, there were several accomplishments," Hill said.
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