Super duper development agency OK’d

By From page A1 | December 07, 2012

By a 4-1 vote, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved creation of a new Community Development Agency. Supervisors John Knight, Jack Sweeney, Ron Briggs and Norma Santiago accepted Chief Administrative Officer Terri Daly’s full recommendation for restructuring the three county departments most involved in planning and development issues.

Supervisor Ray Nutting said he favored some but not all of Daly’s proposal and timeline for implementation but eventually voted no to the whole package.

Effective following adoption of the Dec. 5 board resolution, the new structure will combine the  Development Services Department, Environmental Management Department and the Department of Transportation as an “integrated/consolidated Community Development Agency.”

The traditional departments will be reconfigured as divisions of the new agency under a director of community development who will be hired some time in the near future. Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kim Kerr was appointed “acting” director of community development to steer the restructuring process. Part of the recommendation included immediate recruitment for an assistant director of community development. Daly described that position as the “most expert, technical person to do long-range planning, and step one is to get (that person in place).”

Another new position, assistant director of administration and finance, was created but, like the top job in the agency, the No. 3 will not be filled immediately. The CAO’s six-point recommendation also included several technical requirements for changing the employment status and job specifications of the department heads who now will be “division managers.”

Changing organizational structure and altering department head positions requires a change to the County Code under the El Dorado County Charter. The board therefore also directed staff to revise and update those sections of the charter and “bring the ordinance back for adoption within 30 days.”

Establishing new positions and classifications of employees further requires some modifications to “maintain equity within the county salary schedule.” Thus, Kerr as assistant CAO and Daniel Nielson, director of the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, received salary adjustments of approximately 5 percent, according to the documents. The potential for a negative ripple effect over some salary adjustments drew a stern response from Auditor-Controller Joe Harn both during the meeting and in an e-mail sent later the same day.

“In my time as county auditor I have never seen a consolidation like this. This consolidation will cost $400,000 to $500,000 per year. Maybe there will be cost savings in the future, maybe. The supervisors created three new positions that will be highly compensated. All three will be paid over $100,000 per year. The supervisors and the CAO must be aware of a big pot of money that I am not privy to,” Harn wrote.

He had noted during the meeting and in an earlier letter to the board that the new development agency finance person would be paid more than his own chief deputy auditor-controller and the CAO’s chief budget officer. And, “You’re creating clear inequities regarding pay for other accountants” in the county system. Harn also expressed concern over what he called “grade creep” and “individual salary increases.”

Harn said he believed the new finance officer salary “should be comparable to a principle administrative analyst” position. Bringing an individual into the county system at a higher level represented “grade creep,” he wrote.

“The raises for the assistant CAO and director of HHS were not even on the agenda,” Harn continued.  “The raises for these two individuals were acted on as part of the creation of the Community Development Department. In my opinion, the intent of the California Open Meeting law was violated. The county should make it easy for the public to know what items go before the Board of Supervisors.”

Acknowledging that both positions require a high level of responsibility, Harn said they should not receive salary increases. And he advised that “Most of our contracts with our labor groups expire at the end of this fiscal year (and) that is a better time to review and adjust salaries… If the county is going to give out raises, I believe we need to do it very carefully. We need to take a look at the whole picture and not just focus on a handful of positions.”

A number of local residents expressed concern and opposition to the proposal as well. Sue Taylor of Camino suggested that the consolidation of departments would lead to results that would not be  consistent with the county’s 2004 General Plan. It would “oppose the vision of a rural county.” Taylor then asked supervisors “Is this just a way to fast-track big development?”

District 1 Supervisor-elect Ron Mikulako asked the board to postpone a decision on the CAO’s recommendation until January. He and District 3 Supervisor-elect Brian Veerkamp take their seats on the board at the first meeting of the new year.

Melody Lane of Coloma advised that the way to “fix a broken system is not (to create) a new bureaucracy.” She also suggested that related “decisions may have been made behind closed doors” and concluded with: “Don’t take action on this till you’ve identified and fixed the problems.”

El Dorado County Employee Association Local 1 Director Jere Copeland urged the board to be careful about making unilateral decisions regarding reorganization and reclassification of employees that may violate “meet and confer” requirements as written in Memoranda of Understanding with various employee bargaining units.

Shingle Springs resident Kathleen Newell echoed Taylor’s concerns over protection of the “rural vision” and noted that she and others rank that issue above “economic development” in the county.

Perhaps the most compelling testimony was presented by Tammy Gonzales, a nine-year employee in the county’s Development Services Department. Gonzales acknowledged that “lots need to be changed, but we’re worried that it’s going to fail just like the other time (in the past). Implementation falls down to the people who aren’t shown on this chart (that is, everyone below the three new management positions).”

“Reduction in force is also a concern,” she said before warning, “There’s going to be repercussions if it fails.”

Planning and Development Services has been one of the departments hardest hit by layoffs over the past several years due to the local economy and lack of building and new development.

Supervisor Ron Briggs later responded indirectly to Gonzales’ concerns, assuring that “our staff hasn’t failed us; we and management have failed.” Representing “District 4 concerns,” Briggs said the county’s decision to combine the former Public Health Department with the Human Services Department under one director represented a “good model for fixing major problems with public health services.” The same should hold true for the new Community Development Agency, he suggested.

“This is a culmination of years for me, and I think we need to try it. If it fails, we’ll try something else,” Briggs concluded.

Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo. 

Chris Daley

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