Suppose they combined three separate county departments into one entity and called it the Community Development Agency. That is just what El Dorado County Supervisors, on Oct. 31, voted unanimously to “consider.”
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Recommended by the Chief Administrative Office, Interim Transportation Director Kim Kerr presented a proposal that would join Development Services, Environmental Management and the Department of Transportation in a multi-functional county agency with a sum larger than its parts.
Based on an Organizational Review completed in December 2011, staff was tasked with creating a leaner but more coordinated system to serve the public in all the areas covered now by three relatively independent departments.
Documents related to the CAO’s recommendation note that the proposed agency has six primary goals. They range from “streamlining and simplifying processes for customers” to consolidating “administrative and fiscal functions.” Improved long-range planning and better customer service will be achieved by increasing coordination between disparate departments and staff. And the agency will “provide a unified leadership structure that maximizes opportunity for program and operational synergy,” the rationale states.
One of the targets evolving out of the earlier Organizational Review is economic development. The new agency is charged with addressing that issue head-on and the county’s Economic Development Advisory Committee has been a significant stakeholder and participant in the proposed reorganization. In addition, the agency will be charged with developing plans for the county’s parks, airports and other unspecified “functions.”
As the agency is being formed, Kerr and the CAO recommended a new administrative structure calling for a Community Development Director, Assistant Community Development Director and an Assistant Director of Administration and Finance. Job specifications for the three current department heads involved are being revised to show that they will be reporting to the new Community Development Director for “day to day operations and other modifications necessary to reflect the Community Development Agency structure.”
The affected department directors will retain their current county status. Roger Trout is the current director of the Development Services Department. Gerri Silva is head of Environmental Management, and Kerr is Interim DOT director as well as being the Assistant Chief Administrative Officer.
Supervisors approved the recommended annual base salaries for the three new positions. The Director would start at $157,800; Assistant Director, $137,220; and Assistant Director for Administration and Finance, $130,686. All are based on Step 5 of the county’s salary scale. Kerr explained that “the positions would be funded by a combination of General Funds, fees and various Federal, State and grant funds.”
The salary recommendations are similar to the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, and Kerr pointed out to the board that “Initially, this is not a cost savings plan. We’ve already cut all the way to the bone, and eventually money will be saved through attrition.”
Later, Kerr and CAO Terri Daly assured supervisor Norma Santiago that in Santiago’s words, “we aren’t talking about layoffs here, but we also aren’t talking about creating a new, super bureaucracy. I want to make sure we’re clear on the purpose.”
“The point is to provide better service from Building C. There are no implied layoffs. Our staff have gone through a lot in the last few years,” Daly said. “I just want to be real upfront on that.” (Building C on Fair Lane Court houses the county’s Development Services Department and DOT.)
As part of the board’s resolution, Kerr was appointed Acting Community Development Director pending completion of the recruitment process for an individual to fill the permanent position.
The one-stop concept is partially a result of efforts by the EDAC group to simplify and speed up the county’s permit and zoning processes. Instead of applicants going around to three departments, filling out three separate applications and writing three separate checks, “there should be one check for all in a one-stop shop,” Kerr said.
Supervisor Jack Sweeney praised the proposal but cautioned fellow board members.
“Reorganization like this didn’t work in 1988 or ’89… We need an ombudsman or a project manager,” to shepherd applicants through the process, Sweeney said. “Under the current system we treat applicants as if they were ‘other folks.’ It’s just the way government works. And good as this structure looks, the firewalls are going to go up. We need to change to an attitude of ‘How can I help you?’ when people come to the front counter.”
An “applicant helper” who guides applicants through the entire process “would make all of our work easier,” Sweeney said.
Kerr agreed but added, “How do we get there?”
Supervisor Ray Nutting followed Kerr’s question asking, “How can the board help the staff with this process in providing what we need for our citizens?”
Nutting went on to note that “technology is available today online that can simplify and make the process accessible to everyone.”
Several audience members spoke in general support of the proposal. Michael Ranalli of Lotus said it “would systematize or institutionalize what we’re doing that works, like private business would do it… This is a necessary step, but it will depend on the people you put in place.”
Sue Taylor of Camino, however took an opposing view.
“If this is about fixing the process,” Taylor said. “adding a new bureaucracy isn’t fixing the process. I don’t want more centralized bureaucracy… Things are getting worse for the individual. You don’t need more people at the top, but someone at the counter who knows the process.”
The board put off a final decision for two weeks and directed staff to crunch more numbers and continue to evaluate the proposal.
Fast forward to Tuesday Nov. 13. Again Kim Kerr presented the CAO’s recommendation to combine the departments into a Community Development Agency and described some of the nuts and bolts of the process that were devised in the intervening two weeks.
“We left these as departments but under the umbrella of the new agency,” Kerr said. “The Community Development Director would be an at-will employee and would appoint the two assistants who come under Civil Service status. The department heads remain as department heads according to the county Charter.”
At that point, Jack Sweeney expressed some of the skepticism he had shown two weeks earlier.
“I’m still unsettled by this. I think we need to to think hard about this, because I don’t know if we’re solving a problem or creating a problem.”
He continued to raise the specter of a “firewall” but morphed the concept into concern that employees would become “cloistered.”
“Go and get started on this,” he told Kerr and staff. “Then bring something back. We need time to think about this interrelationship, and I’d like a chance to look at this more.”
Ron Briggs suggested that the county’s “aging workforce” would likely account for the attrition that will save the county money over the next five to 10 years. And “technology will allow less people to do more. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Sweeney came back explaining that for the position of director of community development, the county “needs to hire a manager of people and money, not a manager of ‘things.’ We don’t want to just create a hierarchy for the sake of a hierarchy.”
Briggs suggested that at some point, the process should include fire protection districts and school districts under the same umbrella if not under the same roof to make it “a true one-stop” while Nutting advised that the “structure should match the application process.”
“Will it save money within a year?” he asked Kerr.
“I don’t know but it will improve and save money eventually. And it will reduce the impact to the applicant,” Kerr answered. She also assured Santiago that the new agency “will be welcoming to applicants as a place to do business.”
Taylor continued her earlier opposition saying that “Development services doesn’t know what the rules are anymore. Most of the people who are making money in the county are consultants and the government… Don’t add these positions. Clear up the regulations instead.”
Again the board directed Kerr and the CAO to keep working on the proposal and return at its next regular meeting on Dec. 4.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.