(InEDC) BY Ron Briggs, Past El Dorado County Supervisor Published: September 18, 2023
HHSA is the county’s largest agency with 600+ full time employees. It also is our least expensive agency because nearly 95% of all funding comes from state and federal coffers.
El Dorado County has a poor reputation in the state regarding appointed department / agency directors. I think we’ve had 17 or 18 Chief Administrators in last 20 years: guessing 7 or 8 HHSA directors in 15 years; 4 or 5 county counsel’s and probably a million transportation directors. The turnover at DOT was so bad we did a complete reorganization/consolidation of planning, building and DOT to insulate future candidates.
Both CAO and HHSA directors are highly educated people generally with decades of experience in their fields. Keep in mind there are 58 counties in the state ergo the pool of experienced individuals is small and now with the internet they all talk to each other making it more difficult to recruit.
Most, not all, most of the time the board will increase the salary to attract a qualified soul willing to move their families here. Increasing the top of the org chart salary causes incremental parity increases down the org chart. This gets expensive.
The reason(s) for this revolving door are, well pick one.
The governing board turns over every four to eight years leaving paid staff as the institutional memory. I’m telling you firsthand most people who serve do not possess the skillset to work at the top of the Org chart. While their hearts are in the right place (generally) their abilities are raw. As they begin to catch a stride they are termed out and the cycle begins again.
Board members, most of them, want to present themselves as savants in a policy matters. They ain’t. This sets up conflict between a highly educated seasoned employee with their bosses. Sometimes the board doesn’t want to hear the truth so the belittle and take future punitive actions.
Once in open session the board received a presentation about financial arbitrage. After staff and the experts were finished a supervisor asked “So, once this albatross is done” (sic). Metaphorically the arbitrage could be an albatross, but this supervisor wasn’t speaking metaphorically.
THE ELECTED DEPARTMENT HEADS
There are two state constitutional elected department heads: The sheriff and district attorney. Our county charter (which I really like) unfortunately places five departments up for election. Auditor, Treasurer, Assessor. Surveyor and recorder all who serve without term limits.
This creates an imbalance of power especially with the auditor [Joe Harn] who literally has the county checkbook. He takes a particular zeal in wielding it. I am mixed with the auditor. Sometimes he is dead on and others not. I’ve seen him spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars knowing his position was inferior.
He contributes significantly to the department head revolving door. If you were to ask him, he’d respond that department head X was wasting taxpayer dollars and I would respond we spend more down in trying to recruit replacements. Remember the incremental parity org chart cost.
Board members are not equipped, nor do they have the time, to develop meaningful relationships. The first thing they hear after election is the lawyers beating the Brown Act into their heads with an emphasis on talking, eating with two or more supervisors. It spooks them. Unless there is an old fart like Jack or me to teach them how to be effective newbies just float.
The elected department heads are generally there for life acting like protectors of the taxpayer when in fact they accept pay differentials identical to the unions and much like the listed price at the auto dealer you must look closer to understand they are raking in tens of thousands more. This is bullshit.
The Covid rancor cost us one maybe two HHSA directors. This was so poorly managed by the board, the Apple Cafe fiasco did not need to happen.
The general plan cost a Planning director.
Hiring a body just because they have a pulse and qualifications.
These are a few reasons.
It isn’t any one person or elected official fault.
It’s a collective failure of term limits in my opinion.