The balancing act: Being nonpartisan doesn’t stop politics

By From page A4 | May 19, 2014

Running for office in El Dorado County, as non partisan as it is supposed to be (no party affiliations), is still loaded with plenty of dirty politics. And it looks like there is a need of a large laundromat to clean up the schmutz being hurled by some members of the Board of Supervisors and certain high-ranking and highly paid county employees.

About three weeks ago a $140,000 report authorized and paid for by Board of Supervisors and written by Van Dermyden Maddux called the Climate Assessment Summary of Survey Results of the El Dorado County Workplace was published. The survey was started in late January and completed on April 2. It was sent to 1,934 current and former county employees from whom there were 1,249 responses. While not clear if these were additional participants, there were 45 telephonic or in-person interviews. That would mean there were 1,294 participants.

One of the results of this survey was the demand for the censuring of Joe Harn, the county auditor-controller. It appears the reason for the censuring is one county employee is claiming Joe is a bully and people in the county workforce live is a “climate of fear.” The main complainer is a public relations person in Terri Daly’s CAO office. His name is Mike Applegarth and he says Joe is a bully. He makes or states no specific incidents or “facts,” but he stands up before the BOS and makes unsubstantiated, nonspecific accusations in a sniveling diatribe, saying people are “literally crying over how he’s treating them.” What a wimp. This guy makes more than a hundred grand a year “working” for EDC and I would like to know for what, for writing press releases? If the CAO does her job correctly, no boasting by press releases would be necessary. Of course two board members, Briggs and Nutting lauded Applegarth for his coming forward, but could this be more retaliation against Joe, and not for the public good.

Ray Nutting is in a jam right now, his fate in the hands of a jury for taking grant money, filling out forms incorrectly under a declaration of perjury and receiving improper grants under Proposition 40, tens of thousands of dollars of them. He may have filled out those grant forms incorrectly as well. Nutting claims it was all innocent mistakes.

Nutting also claims that the prosecution has been political, saying DA Vern Pierson is playing politics. So what does Nutting do? He recruits his own candidate, Judson Henry, to run against Pierson in the DA’s race hoping if elected, he could get the prosecution dropped. Before Henry abruptly quit the race, Henry says his campaign platform was that the DA needs to use more discretion on choosing who to prosecute. Like Ray Nutting?

And one of the reasons that Nutting has a problem at all was because Harn reported these irregularities in his grant forms. But before Joe reported these problems to the DA he told Nutting he thought the forms were done in error and he should correct them. But Nutting said his forester helped him do them and he wasn’t going to change them. Harn tried to help Nutting, but I guess Nutting thinks he is smarter. Nutting has a college degree. Nutting’s actions with respect to Harn appear to suffer from a conflict of interest, too, accepting hearsay and nonspecific allegations as fact. While Nutting was convicted on several misdemeanors, he appears to have skated on all but one felony which appeared to be hung.

But more important are facts and there are plenty of them contained in this $140,000 waste of money. The data and responses show that bullying is not a problem in the county, especially in the Auditor’s office. Overall  60 percent of county workers expressed satisfaction working for the county. Twenty-three percent were neutral and 17 percent were dissatisfied. The Auditor’s-Controller’s Office received a 92 percent satisfaction rating, tying it for second place in overall satisfaction with the Library. The Assessor’s Office had 78 percent and County Counsel received a score of 86 percent. People like working for Joe Harn, a lot.

Now let’s look at departments within the Chief Administrator’s Office’s purview, where Mike Applegarth works. Information Technology got a satisfaction score of 41 percent while the CAO’s Community Development Agency received the lowest score in the county at 22 percent. In general if there are problems with employee satisfaction, Mr. Applegarth should look inward, not outward.

But it only gets better. Eighty-six percent of the respondents to the survey answered the question of what is the MOST desirable aspect of your workplace with comments in the following way. About 88 percent of the 86 percent said the most desirable aspect of the workplace are (in descending order of percentage), the People, the Work Environment, or the Work itself. Fourth and fifth were compensation and location. But the dominant No. 1 answer was the people.

Let’s get to bullying, which Applegarth thinks is so pervasive. Out of all the responses of workplace challenges only 47 responded with one of the following: Favoritism, harassment, discrimination, workplace bullying or retaliation. And out of the five comments listed by employees, only ONE referred to bullying.

In the final question of the survey which asked for general topics that the employee would like to discuss only 11 out of the 1,934 surveyed mentioned harassment.

As to more positives, 92 percent said they have direct access to their supervisor; 92 percent also said their supervisor communicates with them either daily (66 percent) or weekly (26 percent).

Eighty-eight percent said that their supervisor communicates with them, in a professional and respectful manner. Eighty-seven percent said that their department provides a high level of public service and adding to that very high number was a 91 percent response saying that their work makes a difference to the citizens of El Dorado County.

Auditor-Controller Joe Harn has the toughest job in the county in this respect.  he Internal Revenue Service audits taxpayers to keep them honest. How many people like IRS auditors, perhaps the most unloved job in the nation? The county auditor’s job is to keep the rest of the county honest and doing things correctly, making sure the paperwork is perfect and constantly correcting county employee errors, looking over their shoulder on fiscal matters and just plain keeping them honest. His job isn’t to be liked or loved, it is to protect the taxpayers’ money. Just as with an IRS auditor who comes to your house saying ,“I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help you,” the auditor probably elicits the same response from some county employees.

Our county assessor, Karl Weiland, said it best: “I always understood that the Auditor’s role is a fiscal watchdog, and watchdogs have to be ready to bark, and sometimes bite. Most everybody at the county has needed to respond to challenges from our Auditor about expenditures and proposals for use of the public money. It comes with the job. Want a nice friendly companion dog? Get a lab. But don’t expect it to stop burglars.”

The numbers speak for themselves and perhaps this survey which cost you $140,000 backfired with respect to the BOS. This appears to have been a planned, orchestrated witch hunt against the auditor and it turns out that he runs one of the best departments in the county. Reports of bullying appear to be highly exaggerated and specious at best. It’s nice to know that about 90 percent of county employees have positive things to say about working for EDC.

In a conversation with Deborah Maddux, Partner in the law firm who did the survey, she would not reveal how EDC numbers stacked up to other jurisdictions that they have surveyed.

Coming soon, if you think our BOS is done spending on political correctness, think again. They have already authorized another $250,000 for a “climate change action plan” (and no, I am not talking about the weather), which will lead to even more wasted money, probably in excess of a million dollars. According to our Sheriff, $250,000 would pay for two more full-time deputies for a year.

Larry Weitzman is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat.

Larry Weitzman

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