One could almost hear “Secret Agent Man” playing in the background as El Dorado County Supervisors contemplated creating a new county position — government affairs specialist — or some similar title. Recommended by Chief Administrative Officer Terri Daly, the position would become the county’s point person to the legislature and state agencies, the Forest Service and any number of other government entities that do business in El Dorado County.
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Keeping abreast of city-county relations, special district issues and regional organization matters should also be included in a job description, she noted.
Citing examples of the county being behind the curve on issues of importance (the closure by the Forest Service of 42 forest roads and proposed closure of vast tracts of public lands to protect the yellow-legged frog and Yosemite Toad), Daly noted that dealing with issues on a case-by-case basis can be only “marginally effective” compared to having a dedicated staffer operating within a systematic work program. That individual could track legislation on which the board has taken an official stand in order to know if it has changed while going through the state’s legislative process, for example.
“We should have advanced knowledge of federal actions impacting El Dorado County by consistently reviewing the Federal Register and purposely cultivating relationships with federal staff. County staff should be consistently following the work of other local agencies that potentially have an impact on county business,” Daly wrote in her formal proposal to the board.
Connecting the request to the county’s larger “Strategic Investment” program, the CAO described both board and public “frustration with other government entities. We’re at the mercy of these state and federal entities. We react rather than being out in front of these issues.”
The recommendation includes reassigning a current, principal CAO analyst to be a government and public affairs coordinator. “This is basically the formalization of work that is already occurring and does not require a new position,” she wrote. Daly’s proposed salary for a government affairs senior analyst, what she calls an “existing resource” is approximately $100,000.
Along with the government affairs guru, Daly recommends the board consider adding an entirely new county position, a public information specialist at a comparable salary.
“The county completely lacks a formal communication function,” she wrote. “Effective communications strategies ensure a two-way information flow between the county, citizens, businesses and visitors. We should strive to create feedback opportunities that are convenient for citizens to attend, and work to present information about county services in a way that is convenient for citizens to receive.”
Tying effective communications to “transparency and better information,” she advises that those factors will lead to better decisions overall. Organizational changes and restructuring over the past year or two have been poorly broadcast both to the public and to county employees, Daly noted. Citing creation of the county’s Community Development Agency, plans to relocate the animal shelter and Mental Health facilities, implementation of Information Technology’s FENIX system and the county budget process, she suggests that all “compel a significant level of communication with the community (and) while staff responds to questions from reporters, we devote few resources to front-end communication.”
Debt-free, unlike many jurisdictions, Daly wrote El Dorado County has “amassed respectable reserves and is undertaking significant investments. Yet we hardly let our residents know what the board and its Executive Management team have accomplished, or how citizens can affect the allocation of resources.”
The county’s presence in social media is “woefully inadequate” and “utterly failing to take advantage of modern communications tools,” Daly told the board. “The lack of a formal communication function is currently the largest deficiency in this policy area,” the documents conclude.
In addition to the salary recommendations, the proposal for a pilot project suggests Advocacy Services for $60,000 and contracted research and audio/visual services at $50,000.
After some discussion, pro and con, supervisors directed the CAO to come back with more details about her proposal. Ron Mikulaco, District 1 voiced objection to the public relations position, however in general board members were enthusiastic about the need for the government affairs specialist. Public comments also were mostly supportive of the notion of having such a position.
Melody Lane told the board she had done a similar job in Sacramento and said that “communication is a problem and getting accurate information is a problem,” and such problems point to the “necessity for this position.”
Other public comments, not necessarily opposed to the proposal, included concerns about creation of “another committee” or another layer of bureaucracy “between me and my representative.”
Supervisor Ray Nutting justified his support by noting that “If you could change one public policy, it could mean millions of dollars to our county.” He was referring to public policy regarding commercial activity in the 1.2 million acres of public land in the county. “One catch by a very bright person more than pays for the investment,” he said.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @CDaleyMtDemo