County CAO calls out local Newspaper's Bias
Where’s the facts in the “Where’s the beef?” editorial published Friday, May 9, in the Mountain Democrat? I am outraged the editor would conclude that I conspired with an employee providing public comment at the Board of Supervisors meeting on April 28. Yes, editorials are meant to share opinions — but slander someone who is tackling a very difficult situation in the most humane way possible? No one at the Mountain Democrat even tried to contact me. You know where to reach me. I’m not hard to find. I’m trying to be as transparent and open as possible while respecting personal privacy and professional character.
As chief administrative officer, I view my job as creating the most efficient, effective organization possible. My job is not political. I do not aspire to an elected position. I am motivated by getting results, by turning a wayward ship around, by the challenge of taking on sensitive issues while effecting positive and long-lasting change.
When the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to conduct a cultural assessment, it was my job to ensure it was done correctly to gain valuable, actionable information. What we found from the survey is that we have a lot of great employees who are trying their best to do their jobs and feel they are making a difference in our community.
We also found, mainly through frequent comments added to the survey, that there are many employees who come to work in fear each day — fear of bullying, fear of retaliation, fear of losing their jobs. This isn’t right. Every person deserves a safe work environment. That’s why we have laws that protect whistle blowers, victims of discrimination and employees who have medical issues. That’s also why the county has a Code of Ethics and Respectful Workplace language in our Personnel Rules.
Employees working in fear don’t do their best work. It’s a costly way to operate. Beyond basic human compassion, my motivation for improving our work environment is fiscal. I estimate that our operating costs could be cut as much as 10 percent, especially in the financial and administrative areas, if people had the training they needed, open and honest communication channels, and a workplace that encouraged collaboration and sharing of ideas instead of cowering and hiding.
Did I ask Mike Applegarth, an employee from my office, to speak at the board meeting? Of course not. He spoke to the board as a private citizen, exercising his freedom of speech. Do I know how frustrated he has become at the unhealthy work environment impacting him personally? Yes. It is no secret that I have reported his concerns to Human Resources and County Counsel. Previously, the county turned a blind eye to bullying, disrespect and humiliation. This must change.
I failed Mike — and many other employees — in the past by not protecting them from inappropriate behavior from some in county leadership. I failed them with my silence, with my acquiescence, with my optimistic belief that I could change things collaboratively, and, frankly, with the fear of being terminated myself.
Our employees deserve a safe, productive work environment. Our citizens deserve a productive, efficient county operation. I encourage the board members to listen and absorb the information provided by independent consultants considered leaders in their field, and then decide next steps so we can prevent bad behavior from continuing.
Changing our culture of fear to a culture of public service for the common good is hard and takes commitment, but I believe it is the responsible course of action.
My goal is to improve our work culture — and our bottom line. By transforming into an organization that embraces new ideas, we encourage innovation and isn’t that a place where most companies will want to do business? Isn’t that a place that will retain and recruit the best talent for our workforce?
Let’s keep the big picture in mind and mature county government so we can all feel proud.
Chief Administrative Officer
County of El Dorado