Union Democrat staff

We said it first in May 2006 and, on this particular subject, nothing has changed.

Tuolumne County supervisors could still search the nation for an administrator and not find a better candidate than the man who now holds the job.

That's why the board should be commended for unanimously voting to extend Craig Pedro's contract for five years. The county is fortunate to have him, and we should do what is necessary to keep this dedicated, knowledgeable and hard-working administrator in office.

Characteristically, Pedro did not ask for a raise - although his performance certainly warrants one. Instead - just as he has taken pay-and-benefit reductions and unpaid days to match the cuts and furloughs required of other county employees - he didn't even bring it up.

Some may carp that anyone earning a six-figure salary is already making too much, but Tuolumne County is getting more than its money's worth out of Pedro.

Savings generated by the Pedro-engineered closure of Tuolumne General Hospital would have alone paid his past three years' salary many times over. TGH had been hemorrhaging cash for more than a decade and through the terms of several earlier CAOs, but Pedro and the current board were the first with the political courage to shut its doors and stop losses that had reached $10 million a year.

But closure of the county hospital is hardly Pedro's only accomplishment. A look at just a few highlights:

• He oversaw the transfer of many surviving TGH operations to private operators with only minimal job loss.

• With Sonora officials, he helped found the new Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority.

• He arranged for a low-interest $6.3 million California State Association of Counties insurance fund loan to finance closure of the county's problem-plagued landfill.

• He helped work out a legal settlement with the state over the county-owned Jamestown Mine site.

• He has advanced development of a much-needed county law and justice center off Old Wards Ferry Road.

Pedro's understated, consensus-building style - one that contrasts sharply with those of some predecessors - has not only been a key to his success, but makes him an effective spokesman for our interests in Sacramento and Washington.

Over the past 15 months Pedro may have faced his stiffest test yet, as Tuolumne County has weathered the worst financial crisis it has faced in decades.

Our administrator pulled no punches last spring, briefing supervisors on the tough times ahead and on the new, far more austere "normal" the county would have to live with in the months to come.

Yes, with new-found revenue and savings, Pedro and the board did spare the county pools and other Recreation Department programs threatened with the ax during budget hearings earlier this year. But otherwise cuts, furloughs and layoffs have been fairly and judiciously applied.

He has been a good steward of county funds at a time when a predatory state government has raided property tax revenue and other historically local funds. Through this turbulent, unpredictable period, Pedro's hand has been steady and his advice sound.

That our administrator is a county native whose family has been here for generations and has no plans to leave distinguishes him from the past 30 years of CAOs.

Pedro is personally and professionally invested here. He's already worked for the county more than 25 years and our top job is not a stepping stone to some lucrative job elsewhere.

Instead, he said, "the satisfaction of knowing I've done a good job for Tuolumne County and its citizens" is the only reward he seeks.

Which makes us lucky indeed.