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THE COMMITTEE APPROACH VS A CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER

BACKGROUND

In an effort to deal with the increasing complexity of County government operations, over time, the Board of Supervisors has developed a committee approach to carrying out many of its duties. Each management committee is comprised of two members of the Board of Supervisors and is responsible for the oversight of one or more County departments. In addition, each committee is charged with a responsibility to keep the Board informed of its actions, and to make recommendations for Board action as needed. Committee assignments rotate, most on an annual basis.

Each County department is headed by an elected, or an appointed manager. Appointed managers serve at the pleasure of the Board and report directly to the Board. Elected Officials are also County managers. Although they have statutory authority, the Board controls their budgets. Department managers are responsible for direct supervision of all activities within their span of control, and are charged with the responsibility to keep the Board of Supervisors informed of their activities. This is usually, but not always, done through the Board committee assigned to oversee their department.

Modern management requires that, in addition to a Board, which establishes policy, someone be responsible for the consistent long-term management of day to day operations. Someone must serve as the "glue" between offices and departments, to insure that everyone is consistently "on track" and working towards the overall organizational goals and objectives in an efficient and cost effective manner. As both its population and budget have increased over time, so has the size and scope of Amador County operations. State and federal laws and programs, while often of benefit to its citizens, have added even more complexity to the business of County government. Today, Amador County is a $42,000,000 operation.

The review of Amador County's overall management status conducted by the 1999-2000 Grand Jury brings the current administrative leadership into focus.

METHODOLOGY

Persons interviewed:

  1. Amador County Board of Supervisors, including the newly elected member who will take office in January 2001.
  2. Administrative Director
  3. Animal Control Director
  4. Agricultural Commissioner
  5. Air Pollution Control Officer
  6. Chief Deputy Clerk/Recorder/Surveyor
  7. County Counsel
  8. General Services Administration Director
  9. Health and Human Services Agency Director
  10. Land Use Agency
  11. Chief Probation Officer
  12. Public Works Agency Director
  13. Undersheriff
  14. Sheriff
  15. District Attorney
  16. Auditor/Controller
  17. Assessor

Documents examined:

  1. "Amador County Budget and County Facts"
  2. County Budgets for the past three years
  3. Job descriptions for County employees
  4. County Policies and Procedures Manual
  5. County organizational charts
  6. Board of Supervisors Committee Assignments
  7. Agreements with employee unions/Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs)
  8. "Counties Close Up," an overview of county government and structure published by the California State Association of Counties (CSAC)
  9. Grand Jury reports for the past three years, and County responses to those reports
  10. Complaints filed with the Grand Jury by citizens of Amador County for the past three years
  11. Audits of General Services Administration Management Practices conducted by Harvey M. Rose Accountancy Corporation in 1984-1985 and 1999-2000.
  12. Newspaper articles covering County Government issues.

FACTS

  1. The population of Amador County has grown from 19,314 in 1980 to approximately 35,000 in 2000.
  2. The County Budget has grown from approximately $11,500,000 to $42,000,000 during this same time period.
  3. The number of County employees has also increased from approximately 245 (excluding hospital) in 1980 to 485 currently.
  4. Many of the management problems identified by the 1999-2000 Grand Jury have existed for some time. A number of them have been identified in previous Grand Jury Reports. With few exceptions these problems have resulted from:
  5. Under the present system, all non-elected County department heads and the County Counsel report to, are supervised by, and serve at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors. Elected County Officials are also County managers. While their authority is statutory, the Board controls their budgets.
  6. The 1999-2000 Final Budget contains a line item of $93,225 for a County Administrative Officer (CAO). This position, which was approved by the Board on August 24, 1999, has not been filled.
  7. When asked what the duties of the CAO would be, County Supervisors gave widely disparate answers. Even the three, who agreed that there should be one, do not agree about either the duties or the span of control.
  8. When County managers were asked about the need for a CAO, most stated that none was needed, but if one was hired, they could adjust.
  9. Most Managers were in agreement that it would be a serious mistake to hire a CAO if the Board did not delegate the authority required to do the job.
  10. All neighboring counties, with the exception of Alpine County (population approximately 1,200, budget $9 million), have County Administrative Officers.
  11. Three of the five incorporated cities in Amador County have city managers or administrative officers.
  12. With the exception of the County's "General Plan," Amador County does not have strategic long-range plans or written goals and objectives.
  13. Several Board members stated that Amador County is one of the three counties in the state that is "operating in the black."
  14. Amador County Government has been described as operating in a "relaxed and informal" manner.

CONCLUSIONS

  1. There has been little supervision of department managers to hold them accountable for problems within their departments or offices. Examples include, but are not limited to, failure to follow County policies and procedures or standard personnel practices, and the release of unsubstantiated information resulting in a $150,000 claim against the County.
  2. Few organizations the size and scope of Amador County would attempt to operate in today's complex environment without the clearly defined leadership of a Chief Executive to handle the day-to-day administration required; yet the current Board has been unable to reach agreement on this important issue.
  3. The current committee approach was developed in an effort to provide a more organized, systematic method of operating. However, the expression "too many things are still falling through the cracks" appears to be an accurate description of its shortcomings.
  4. The Board has failed to implement the principles of modern personnel practice, including objective, periodic written evaluations and documented progressive discipline, making it difficult to support disciplinary actions.
  5. The lack of strategic planning and a failure to require development of specific goals and objectives has resulted in "tunnel vision," a lack of coordination between County departments, and a reactive approach to problem solving.
  6. The County has outgrown the Board's ability to provide the day-to-day administrative leadership required.
  7. The County needs an Administrative Officer with the education, experience, aptitude and authority to run a $42,000,000 operation.
  8. The Board of Supervisors has not reached the agreement necessary to develop an accurate job description for a CAO, or to delegate the authority required.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. The Board of Supervisors should hire a qualified management consultant to assist them in reviewing the County's current management problems; and, with the assistance of a trained facilitator, develop a clear plan of action. This should include:
  2. Before a CAO is recruited, the issues of authority and reporting relationships must be addressed. All County managers including County Counsel and the Administrative Director should report to a CAO. In the interest of good government, no office should be exempt from normal County administrative requirements.
  3. Based on the information collected in step one, the Board should then develop a plan to provide adequate budget and staff support for the office of CAO.
  4. When the necessary preparation is completed, the Board of Supervisors should hire a CAO.

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