Jeffrey A. Van Wagenen Jr. is the right County Executive Officer at the right time [Opinion]

The Board of Supervisors have unanimously appointed Jeffrey A. Van Wagenen Jr. County Executive Officer. Prior to his promotion Jeff Van Wagenen served as Assistant County Executive Officer with budgetary oversight of the sheriff, district attorney, fire, emergency management, and probation departments. He was named to that post by former County Executive Officer George A. Johnson.

Former County Executive Officer Jay E. Orr tapped Van Wagenen to serve as Managing Director of the now defunct Economic Development Agency. While with EDA he oversaw The Office of Foreign Trade, Office of Defense & Military Services, Office of Film & Television, Housing, Fair &  National Date Festival, Facilities Maintenance, Janitorial Services, Library Services, Workforce Development, Real estate, Airports, and the Successor Agency.

Van Wagenen was also a practicing prosecutor with the District Attorney. He had two tours of duty with this office: One with District Attorney Grover Trask and the most recent with Former District Attorney Paul Zellerbach.  Paul Zellerbach named Van Wagenen his Assistant District Attorney and second in command.

No contemporary prior County Executive Officer has come to the post with this level of experience in Riverside County government. Not Johnson, not Orr, not Luna and not Parrish. Each of these men guided the county in good and tough times. Each left indelible marks on the county and its team members.

Van Wagenen takes the reigns of county government during a tough time. The county team is front and center with Coronavirus programs,  the budget deficits are the largest in county history, and health care and labor costs continue to increase.

I have worked with Jeff Van Wagenen while serving as Chief of Public Policy for the Board of Supervisors Fourth District V. Manual Perez. I was a direct report to him while working at EDA. I found him to be the kind of manager who gave you a job to do and then gave you the authority to do it. Those are very rare qualities.

Your best leaders take responsibility. They assign workloads to competent executives on teams they build and give you the authority to do your assignment.

They hold you accountable, lead from the front and set examples for honesty, integrity, and service above self. They are good listeners, too. That describes the Van Wagenen I know.

He is a husband and father. I am a USC fan. So is Van Wagenen. He also played his college football at USC where he was the center on special teams. His brother is the GM for the New York Mets and his father was on the PGA tour. This is a successful family by any measure.  While I am not a drinker, Jeff is the kind of guy our 44th President would describe “As a guy you would want to have a beer with.”

Van Wagenen has his work cutout for him. The Board has selected him for a tough task. He knows the county. He knows the “A“  players, leg hangers, and those who can be trusted to do the people’s business. He’ll be leading a team of 20,000 dedicated public servants serving 2.5 million residents. It’s a big job!

We wish him well and trust he’ll be the County Executive Officer who successfully leads America’s tenth largest county safely through this record fiscal crisis and health pandemic. He’s the right person at the right time.





Image Sources

  • Jeffrey A. Van Wagenen Jr.: Riverside County