Grand Jury goes after elected officials

By From page A1 | June 23, 2014

A new Grand Jury report is calling for amending the county charter to make four elected official positions be appointed rather than elected, and addresses department heads circumventing the county Chief Administrative Office in favor of speaking directly to the Board of Supervisors.

The report states that, “Elected officials can refuse to cooperate with both the Board of Supervisors and the county’s (CAO)” and that elected department heads “went around the CAO directly to the Board of Supervisors in support of their own positions to the detriment of the county as a whole.” It further states: “Individual members of the Board of Supervisors interfered in the day-to-day administration of the county.” This, the Grand Jury asserts, not only affects efficiency but costs “the county significant dollar amounts.” They found that the county charter “supported and encouraged” these practices.

As such, the Grand Jury recommended the charter be amended so the sheriff, district attorney and assessor are the only elected positions as per the California Constitution. The recorder-clerk, surveyor, auditor-controller and treasurer-tax collector, currently elected positions, would become appointed positions. Term limits are set by the charter for the BOS, but no other officials — Treasurer/Tax Collector C.L. Raffety has held the position since 1985 and Auditor-Controller Joe Harn and Recorder-Clerk Bill Schultz have both served for nearly 20 years.

“I disagree with the recommendation,” Harn said. He believed that medium- and large-sized counties should have an elected finance officer. “We have the best-looking balance sheet in the state,” he said, likely because the people continue to elect Harn and Raffety, who, as a team, have kept the county in a good financial state, opposing “frivolous use of money.” He pointed out that El Dorado Irrigation District is in a “mountain of debt” because no one stood up to it 10 years ago.

Schultz agrees with Harn. “I always thought elected officials were a good thing, a good balance to the Board of Supervisors,” he said.

Raffety simply sees it as taking away rights. “Nobody wants their right to vote taken away,” she said. None of the currently elected positions are “esoteric” as the Grand Jury said, and she “would hardly agree with that. We offer the board expert opinions and give advice from time to time,” in order to “keep the county fiscally sound.”

Though the Grand Jury said that “a general belief among staff (is) that they must be sensitive to the unspoken, unwritten and uncodified ‘will of the Board’” lest they “suffer consequences,” it adds that, “The Grand Jury repeatedly heard concern that on any given Tuesday, department heads could be fired without notice.”

Schultz and Harn disagreed. “I’m not sure they can fire someone on the spot,” Schultz said. “(Human Resources) would probably go along with a board recommendation, but it’s not as simple as getting up to the podium and saying, ‘You’re fired.’”

Harn could not think of any such firing for at least three years, when the former IT director left. “I don’t recall anyone being fired in at least three years,” he said. He also mentioned that on any given day, anyone could be fired — the nature of at-will employment.

There was a “parade of turnover” in some offices that report directly to the board, Raffety said, such as the Planning Director’s Office and offices reporting to the CAO, but was not more specific on employees being fired by the board during meetings.

As for going around the CAO to the board to get money, Harn has not seen that happen, either.

“I don’t do it related to budgetary matters,” he said. The board had reduced his and other elected officials’ salaries, not raised. “Elected officials, department heads are not going directly to the BOS and asking for money,” he said. “I just don’t think that’s happening. Not without asking the CAO first. It’s a better way to do it.”

The CAO works for the county like anyone else, Raffety said, and is “not an all-powerful god.” People have the right to go to the board when they want, she said. But, her office works “very cooperatively with the CAO,” helping to implement a new software program. “We’re still very cooperative.” However, one thing she has noticed when people report to the board is that they fail to list both pros and cons — something she feels is essential.

Schultz, a former serviceman in the Navy, strongly believes in the chain of command. “The typical protocol should be followed,” he said — going to the CAO and then the BOS. “If you go through the system, you get better results.”

Assistant CAO Kim Kerr said the office would not make a comment yet as they had 90 days to review and present to the board. She did note that they would be referring the findings to a charter review committee.

Schultz and Raffety confirmed they were not contacted by the Grand Jury for the report. Harn said that, despite usually meeting with the Grand Jury in July, he had, at least for the past eight months, not been interviewed regarding the charter. Due to all-day meetings, Supervisor Norma Santiago and CAO Terri Daly did not return calls for comment. Supervisor Brian Veerkamp was also unavailable due to being on vacation; Supervisor Ron Briggs was sick and unable to comment. Surveyor Rich Briner did not return calls for comment.

Cole Mayer

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