As we reported earlier this week, Department of Personnel Administration Director Ron Yank is leaving his post at the end of this month. The news -- which he spread himself in a series of personal calls and emails -- surprised labor leaders and state managers.
Late last month I asked Yank how he was enjoying his job as California's labor relations point man. "I love it," he said, and told me that he had no plans to leave.
I asked him that question nearly every time that we spoke over the last year. Yank didn't need the money, having retired from a long and successful career in labor law representing the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and other unions.
And I always wondered whether Yank, a marathon runner who admits to flashes of temper and salty language when it gets his point across, was suited to head a bureaucracy.
The DPA director sits at what can be an uncomfortable intersection between politics, law and finance. The job requires offering carrots and sticks to other department heads and labor leaders and walking a narrow path between the administrative independence that gives the office power while still executing the governor's agenda.
Ron Yank never struck me as a guy who was keen on asking for permission. His exit illustrated that fact. Instead of waiting for the governor's office to announce his departure and name a successor, he broke with protocol, picked up the phone and started calling union leaders to tell them he was leaving at the end of the month. The news quickly spread.
On Wednesday, Yank said that despite all of his assurances to the contrary, he took the post with the understanding he would leave after one year. That was all the time he was willing to take away from his family in the Bay Area, he said.
He didn't want to make that known for fear of hobbling his effectiveness. "If I'd been a lame duck, we couldn't have accomplished half the things we accomplished," he said as we drank coffee at a restaurant near DPA's offices on S Street.
What follows is an email to DPA staff with the subject line, "Why is Ron leaving his job after only one year?" Yank issued it a few hours after news of his exit surfaced on Tuesday. We're publishing it here after confirming its authenticity with DPA.
As of this morning, the Brown administration still hasn't issued an official statement about Yank's departure or named a successor.
From: Ronald Yank
Sent: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 3:23 PM
To: Ronald Yank; Ron Yank
Subject: "Why is Ron leaving his job after only one year?"
"Because that's what he told Jerry Brown he would do...." in the first five minutes of my interview with the then Governor-Elect, I explained that I wanted to be away from my family only for a year. He gave me the job anyway.
You will recall that I retired from a great law firm, with great partners, with great clients, and with many good friends on the opposite side of the labor- management fence. I did so to help Adrienne be a support team to our kids, as they raised our grandchildren. I loved doing that and did not "flunk retirement." I went to work for the Governor to turn around what the Sacramento Bee (no friend of working people) described as a "poisonous" relationship between the previous governor, on the one hand, and state employees and their unions, on the other.
I believe that I have indeed turned the relationship around, with a lot of help from folks in my department, folks in the Governor's Office, and from Jerry Brown himself. This Administration believes in treating state employees and those that represent them with dignity and respect, even though Administration representatives, including yours truly, constantly have had to say, "We have no money."
I leave having been able to put people in place that will continue a decent relationship with state employees, striving for fairness to both our state's citizens and its workers in these difficult economic times.
I owe a lot to the employees of the department I led, the Department of Personnel Administration (DPA). As I told many of you a little over a year ago, the department handles matters going well beyond labor relations -- including health benefits, savings plans akin to a 401k, travel reimbursements, pension contributions, promotional requirements and other civil service rules, and, alas, layoffs. More than once in the past thirteen-plus months, I have said, "This department practically runs itself." I believe that the overwhelming majority of personnel in my department never liked the onslaught against state employees, by the prior Administration, (e.g.,
furloughs) and find the attitude of this one far more to their liking. I am proud and honored to have been the Director of DPA.
A quick word about Governor Jerry Brown: Having been a public sector union labor lawyer for over 30 years, I have never had much respect for politicians (with the exception of the guy now living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue). I liked Jerry well enough. I voted for him I think every time he has run for something, including as Mayor of Oakland; and, what the heck, he had given me the gig, and I owed him to do a good job. On a second front, I figured he had to be relatively smart, as he graduated from Yale Law School. (On the other hand, so did Clarence Thomas.) However, within weeks of the start of the present Administration, in January of last year, both perceptions changed.
First of all, the Governor is wicked smart. He is obviously a voracious reader. He often knows more about a subject matter than someone who is supposed to brief him on same. And he "gets" things amazingly quickly. In short, I believe, that he is one of the five smartest people I've ever known. As important, from January 3, 2011 when he was sworn in as Governor, Jerry Brown has been busting his butt for the people of California. In the first half of last year one could see him walking around the halls of the Capitol, with no entourage, buttonholing politicians from one party or the other trying to fix our state. His energy and commitment know no bounds. I do not
mean to gush, but I have tremendous respect and fondness for the guy.
We all are very lucky to have him leading efforts to turn things around in California in these still difficult times.
I leave my job feeling like I accomplished even more than I had set out to do, again with the help of a lot of people. I'm very grateful to Adrienne and our two sets of kids who have shown me lots of support while I was spending five nights a week in Sacramento and they have, from time to time, assured me that I was a help on the occasions when I did get to hang out with them and the grandkids. For those of you who heard me say, perhaps more than once, that I loved my job, t'was absolutely true. It felt truly odd to love every single day on a job and yet never consider, for a second, not leaving to get back to retirement with my family (and my "Cheers," Ben & Nick's on College Avenue). But that's how it went. I was/am lucky, and very grateful.
I look forward to seeing many of you, the recipients of this e-mail, in the months and years to come.
PHOTO: Ron Yank at his Department of Personnel Administration office. Sacramento Bee 2011 file.