COUNTY OF SANTA BARBARA
RESPONSE TO GRAND JURY REPORT ON THE MANAGEMENT OF COUNTY GOVERNMENT
Supervisor Jeanne Graffy
July 18, 1995
My time on the board has been of fairly short duration but long enough to agree that county government is not a tightly-run ship. It is more like a lumbering wagon-train -- awkward and disjointed, and not easy to get all the parts moving in the same direction.
Grand Jury reports as far back as 1988, along with last year's report, and the consultant's "transformation study" have all consistently pointed to the management problems in the county.
During that time there have been a number of administrators of varying styles and personalities -- and yet, the problem persists. "the fault, dear brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves..." We struggle with a system designed at the turn of the century for a rural county. What worked for counties one hundred years ago, or even fifty years ago, is not working today. The demands are different and the County's independence has increased dramatically. We are challenged by decreasing revenues, increasing costs, growing human services needs, capital shortfalls, and infrastructure deterioration. It is no wonder the pace for decision-making is so rapid. and the papers "stack-up" as the Grand Jury noted."
That is why I believe and agree with Grand Jury recommendation (recommendation #4) that we must be willing to move from the traditional model of betting department policy based on the patronage of individual supervisors. management as the Grand Jury termed it, is a real threat to substantial and practical change at the county. It is difficult, and must be frustrating for fourteen department heads to get effective direction and to interface with five supervisors of varying philosophies and directives -- fourteen department heads, five supervisors. you do the math. It makes for scattered planning efforts and achievements. There needs to be unified goals and action plans.
Although it has its merits, I do not believe that decentralization is the best management method for the county at this time. Rather, there needs to be a strengthening of the central core -- from which departments can emanate with their own particular needs and activities. There must be a clear understanding of the basis from which they start and an even clearer vision of goals they will achieve and when they will achieve them. The public asks for results. Outcome is more important that the process. "it was a beautiful operation. but the patient died" is no compliment.
Past boards clung to their policy-making prerogatives with departments heads. It's time to let go. The county administrative officer is the head of the "company", we are the board of directors. Policy is made at the board level, directed and carried out through the chain of command by the administrator.
This is what the Grand Juries and the consultant have tried to tell us as they investigated how the county is run. Details may have missed the mark here and there, but the essence of their observations is true.
It is the system that is failing us. It is our job to change what isn't working. The people heading our departments are top-notch. It is our job to see that the policies and directives we lay down enable them to do outstanding work for our county and its citizens.
As in Grand Jury recommendations #1 and #2, we need to start with our mission and goals. We should allocate time for a workshop to accomplish this. I suggest setting two-year goals in categories -- public works, transportation, communication, economics (never before included in goals), or which ever priorities are identified. The goals should then be charted with objectives, action plans, and a timeline to achieve them. Budget allocations would then be based on these priorities. Every two years objectives should be evaluated for attainment, revised, or extended. Accomplishments can be measured, and new objectives added.
Each department's goals and action priorities should be based on the board goals. The statement will, of course, be individual to the department. yet there is some benefit in using the same format to enunciate them.
In-line with recommendation #3, elected department heads must also be team players and work with the County administrator (C.A.) in solving problems. This need not signify any sacrifice of independence. but rather be a willingness to work for the best interests of our community.
Recommendation #5 notes that the C.A. should have the "supportive environment in which to carry out his duties." For that reason, I do not believe the C.A. should reduce his staff in spite of the need to cut costs. If we want that department to bear the responsibilities we give it, and function with efficiency and leadership, there needs to be strong staff support.
Partial work has been accomplished on the recommendation of the transformation study. Also, the change was made for the County administrator but no clear direction that the authority went with it.
As for recommendation #5b -- evaluation of department executives is ongoing at present. Performance contracts should be made with each department head annually' whereby the director looks to the year ahead, states what he or she expects to achieve, coordinating the department's programs with the board objectives. This should be reviewed and discussed with the C.A. -- and then evaluated at the end of the year. When the budget is in better shape. we could consider the Grand Jury's recommendation of a performance based incentive system to recognize outstanding individual performance in exceeding contract goals. However, doing this in the current economic climate is not feasible.
Recommendation #7 is most important. Audits can also help departments organize around outcomes -- not just functions, to find measurable results.
Recommendations #8 and #9 -- a county incentive system could be beneficial, although it doesn't necessarily have to be monetary. Some efforts are ongoing in that direction. Employees need to feel they are stockholders on the team.
Recommendation #10: I would welcome continued review, evaluation, recommendation and support from the Grand Jury. The problems are tough, we need all the help we can get. We want to make the quality efforts that improve the lives of our citizens.
A few thoughts on citizen complaints. They may well be handled by the supervisors and departments, but I do agree with the Grand Jury conclusion that an "ombudsman" position is needed. It may not be possible at this time with our budget constraints, but the need is there. Residents are frustrated in efforts to find the right departments. contact the appropriate person, and then get shuffled from one phone call to another to have a question answered. There are a number of outstanding examples available from other communities that have established citizen service centers.
We have a large entrance lobby. A counter/desk near the elevators could productively serve as an information center.
The purpose of this would be to improve "customer", service and to improve communication with the public. We need to focus on the needs and priorities of our citizens and the community we serve -- to redefine the relationship between the county government and its residents.
Our challenge, my challenge, is to work for the day when we can seriously say "we're from the government, and we're here to help" -- and the people will believe us.