The balancing act: A survey designed to create change

By From page A4 | June 02, 2014

According to the Sacramento Bee’s latest editorial, El Dorado County lives in the dark ages, “a rough and tumble mentality, a culture that pervades county government.” Most of this supposed revelation is identified in a climate assessment survey designed and given by the law firm Van Dermyden Maddux discussed in the last Balancing Act.

The Bee claims it confirmed what people thought about working for the county that workers are afraid to speak up for fear of retribution, favoritism, nepotism and bullying. They cited one employee who said “most of us feel hopeless and come to work out of obligation instead of wanting to.” Notice how one person speaks for everyone.

Hey, I got news for the Bee, most people work because of obligation, like having transportation, housing, food, clothing, and medical care and so on. Most people would not work if they didn’t have to. Who likes getting up at 5 a.m. or earlier and then fighting traffic for a couple of hours or more a day getting to work to do the same thing over and over again. That’s why it is called work, not fun. Not many people get to do their dream job, like a Hollywood actor or a race car driver. And for the same reason people play the lottery so they hopefully will never have to work again.

A recent report said that most people view work as a source of stress, which brings us back to the Van Dermyden Maddux survey, which, it can be said, was designed to create a problem and was presented that way by Sue Van Dermyden. In a clarification published in the Mountain Democrat, at Van Dermyden’s presentation she said many employees consider they are working within a “culture of fear.” She went on to say that “60 percent of the respondents  were generally satisfied with their employment with the county…40 percent are not happy.”

Van Dermyden intentionally slanted the results. First, 17 percent said they were not satisfied and 23 percent said they were neutral. Nowhere was the word “happy” used. It appears Van Dermyden was attempting to exaggerate the results to demonstrate problems that do not exist. If you reread the last Balancing Act, you will find 90 percent rate of employees saying the county delivers a high level of public service and their work makes a difference.

If that isn’t enough, our county employees are well paid, just getting a big raise. All job salaries are listed on the county’s Website. The numbers might surprise you, like the head dog catcher earning $98,000 a year, plus retirement and benefits.

So what did the Board of Supervisors do? Along with the already spent $140,000, they have authorized another $250,000 to start a climate action plan. How much employee time will be wasted and how much more will it cost? It is easy to spend money when it is Other People’s Money, the OPM of government, politics and power. If you think county employees are unhappy now, wait until this crap is foisted on them. Don’t you love sensitivity training and political correctness carried out to the nth degree. Can’t we all get along? The BOS forgot about one thing — human nature. It will never change. It sounds like the beginning of a Communist Chinese re-education camp.

The last question of the survey, question 35, asked for “topics you would like to discuss such as: retaliation, harassment, equal employment opportunity issues, culture, work place civility, etc.” Here was a chance to specifically lay it out, tell it like it is. Of the more than 1,900 people who were sent the survey, here are the real numbers, retaliation 18, harassment 11, culture 11, workplace civility 7,  hostile work environment 2, and favoritism 1. And respondents could list more than one item, so the total number of respondents could be as little as 18.  Question 11 asked for the “greatest workplace challenge.” Only  47 workers cited harassment, discrimination, workplace bullying, favoritism or retaliation. About the same number as Q 35.

It is obvious that your BOS who paid for this report with your money and the Sacramento Bee did not study the report. They failed the county, a mistake which will cost the county hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

But the Bee wasn’t done with eviscerating the taxpayers and citizens of El Dorado County. The Bee editorial board met with soon to be gone board member Norma Santiago and CAO Terry Daly. Looks like our CAO is becoming a politician.  As a result the Bee made a suggestion, surely at the behest of the politicking Daly and Santiago who will be out of work soon, that perhaps the county charter should be reformed to eliminate some of the elected officials by changing them to appointed positions, starting with the County Surveyor and Recorder-Clerk. Neither positions are highly paid (relatively speaking compared to other county salaries), at about $120,000 a year or about half of Daly’s salary. Both of those position have influence and power. The Clerk gets to decide if candidates for office meet the qualification criteria for that office and the Surveyor is the approver of new tracts and developments. And such an appointment would be a nice raise for Santiago.

But more important is that such a move would create more of a spoils system and give much more power and influence to the CAO, which is how the CAO sees the county anyway. A quick study of the organizational chart drawn by the CAO shows that all department heads, including the elected ones report to her. Daly thinks the auditor-controller reports to her. Aren’t foxes the best guards of a hen house? If the BOS wants to get rid of the antiquated ways of elections and bring back the spoil system, it would be a significant step backwards. And such a result would create a real crony county. More to come.

It needs to be stressed that Van Dermyden Maddux would not reveal how the El Dorado County study stacks up to other jurisdictions. Without that information we cannot determine a baseline.

Also they would not reveal how many surveys were sent to current and past employees and their respective response rates plus looking at each group separately. That is important information. It makes the bias in the presentation even more compelling.

Larry Weitzman is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat.

Larry Weitzman

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