There is a movement in El Dorado County that could be called a coup d’county, a takeover of county government under the absolute rule of the county chief administrative officer. And it looks like this movement is led by the county CAO, Terri Daly, her followers and minions. Maybe EDC executives will become like those executives in the city of Bell. Only recently (July of 2013) did Terri Daly seek from the BOS and receive an annual salary increase for the HR director of $33,000, an increase of 22 percent.
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Here’s what going on. In order to create a furor in the county, the CAO’s office used the law firm of Van Dermyden Maddux and our $140,000 to create a now questionable survey that claims that the county employees live within a “culture of fear,” with the chief culprit being the county auditor, Joe Harn, alleged to be a “mean bully” who won’t cave to other people’s pressure when they want to use county money, perhaps improperly. Of course, what was claimed about the auditor wasn’t true, as the survey showed the real problem in the county was in the department headed by Kim Kerr, the Community Development Agency, which according to the survey, had a satisfaction rating of 22 percent. What was the employee satisfaction rating of the auditor’s department you ask? It was about the highest in the county at 92 percent, the same as the county library.
But it was the beginning of a campaign to rid the county of its longtime auditor, an auditor who won’t let anyone in the county waste the people’s money or use it incorrectly. Harn has saved the county tens of millions of dollars over his tenure (Harn has taken the county from a $20 million deficit to a $54 million surplus). The real bully in the CAO’s office from the Van Dermyden survey data is the assistant CAO, Kim Kerr. It was hoped that all this notoriety plus a lot of advertising by the opponent would cause Joe Harn to be defeated in the June election.
Well, that didn’t work as most people in the county are aware of Harn’s excellent work and work ethic and he won the last election by a landslide, by 11-12 percentage points, similar to the two Ronald Reagan landslides over Carter and Mondale. So the next move by the coup was to nullify the elections of elected county officers, the auditor-controller, the treasurer-tax collector, the surveyor and county recorder-clerk.
The method by which the BOS and CAO would achieve this was through the El Dorado County Grand Jury, implementing the Grand Jury recommendations via a Charter Review Committee to reform the county charter (its main governing document) to eliminate the aforementioned elected department heads and make them appointed. Appointed by guess who? That’s right Terri Daly, the CAO.
When studying the Grand Jury report, it can be seen that the Grand Jury did not study the Van Dermyden Maddux report and it admits it did not investigate allegations made against the auditor-controller, but did take unsubstantiated “testimony” from obviously biased “witnesses” without any cross-examination. This Grand Jury just went through motions, because the results of the report were pre-ordained from the beginning. Sounds like another Terri Daly kangaroo court. And that becomes more evident when reading the report’s findings and recommendations, which do not appear to have the underlying facts to back them up. Such a situation would and should invalidate the report. But that doesn’t stop this repetition of Jan. 30, 1933. Just take a look at the Grand Jury proposed rewrite of the EDC Charter, which was forwarded to the Charter Review Committee.
Amending the Constitution of the United States normally takes years just to get a proposed amendment through Congress before ratification, which can take even more years; but with respect to the foundational document to the EDC Charter the attempted coup is happening in weeks. The Charter Review Committee is required to meet only twice, with only one meeting of substance; and it might be the last meeting, although there could be one more. That’s a lot riding on one or two meetings with limited time for the public to speak. But that goes with the territory here as the proposed charter changes are the elimination of democracy within the county as the changes would give effectively complete control of the county to the CAO. After a recent short discussion with Charter Review Committee Chairman Kris Payne, I have some hope his apparent lack of bias and common sense will prevail and the coup will be stopped in its tracks.
A summary of the changes to the charter as proposed by the GJ would do the following: All hiring and firing within the county would now belong to the CAO at her complete discretion pursuant to the Grand Jury’s proposed charter change of Section 401. Currently, department heads are now hired and fired by the Board of Supervisors. So if the auditor were to say no to the CAO or one of her minions, and with the CAO’s new power to hire and fire (they will all eventually be minions as all department heads will serve at the pleasure of the CAO), bye bye auditor. The auditor, who is supposed to protect the taxpayers’ money, will no longer be a junkyard dog; he/she will be a basset hound (no offense to the breed). It would become a true spoils system, a real crony county. Terri Daly has already hired several of her friends, giving them fat raises, like Pam Knorr, the HR director, and Kim Kerr the assistant CAO.
Perhaps the CAO would appoint an unqualified or worse yet scheming treasurer-tax collector. Maybe the new treasurer-tax collector would make investments using a political insider’s investment broker or worse, sell off the delinquent tax rolls as one of our outgoing supervisors perhaps wanted to do. Maybe that outgoing supervisor plans on getting that job by appointment. His lack of qualifications and a one-year wait as required by the current county charter may prevent that.
Another power grab by the CAO is a proposed language change in Section 304 (a) of the charter. It was only one word but it’s a powerful word. Instead of reading “304 (a) Coordinate the work of all offices and departments, both elective and appointive, and devise ways and means to achieve efficiency and economy in all counties operations,” the word “coordinate” was changed to “direct.” That would give complete control of the entire county to the CAO even over the district attorney, the sheriff and the assessor. The CAO would already have complete control of the auditor-controller, the treasurer-tax collector, recorder-clerk (maybe the CAO could force the back-dating of recorded documents or allow an unqualified candidate on the ballot) if those offices were to become non-elective and appointed by the CAO. The proposed Grand Jury charter change Section 401 would have already removed from the BOS the hiring and firing of department heads and given that power to the CAO.
Larry Weitzman is a resident of Rescue. His column appears biweekly.