RESPONSE TO 1994-95 GRAND JURY’S INTERIM
REPORT ON THE MANAGEMENT OF COUNTY GOVERNMENT
Timothy J. Staffel
The 1994-95 Santa Barbara County Grand Jury is correct when it states that improvement of the county management structure is in order. The current processes of county government in Santa Barbara County have developed over a long period of time and may no longer be appropriate for today’s environment of less local discretion over revenue sources.
In fact, the grand Jury’s critigue of the county management structure is a debate which is occurring throughout California’s 58 counties at the present time as county governments in particular are taking the brunt of the revenue re-allocation decisions being made by the State Legislature during a time of statewide budgetary shortfalls. But as the 1994-95 Grand Jury report recommends, Santa Barbara County should take this opportunity to re-adjust its management structure while continuing to downsize the total number of management level employees.
One of the main points derived from the Grand Jury’s report is a call for a stronger County Administrator position with wideranging authority over department heads, particularly those who are not directly elected. I concur with this assessment and feel that Santa Barbara County, as well as other California counties, should seriously consider whether ‘the time has come to operate county government more from a city manager like structure. Because counties perform different functions than cities (health and welfare programs, court operations, probation services, district attorney and public defender, etc.), the historic development of county organizational structure has resulted in more autonomous departments and departmental directors.
The first step in this direction would be to seriously consider the Grand Jury’s Finding No. 4 and Recommendation Nos. 4 a-c by transferring from the Board of Supervisors to the County Administrator the authority to appoint the heads of non-elected departments. This is particularly true of departments (or divisions) of general government operations such as Personnel, General Services, Public Works, Planning & Development and Parks. In the past the County Administrator has sought to address this “span of control” issue through departmental reorganizations which has given the County Administrator a greater ability to manage certain departments. Such a transfer of authority should also include direct budgetary and personnel control in order to allow the County Administrator to make strong recommendations to streamline general government operations functions wherever possible.
Having set forth the above, I should state that I concur with Supervisor Tom Urbanske’s comments about departmental mission statements, goals and performance objectives. I do not believe that the Grand Jury intended that the Board of Supervisors duplicate the expensive, time consuming and overly complex Transformation Study project of several years ago.
I view the Grand Jury’s report a call for county government to establish management policies which are in line with today’s fiscal realities and with this I completely concur.
I do feel it is important to stress a point in which the Grand Jury and the County Administrator are in agreement: that is, that the State’s shifting of property tax money away from the County (and counties statewide) has led to uncertainties resulting from the unstable ongoing State budget which has affected the County’s ability for fiscal and management planning with respect to all aspects of county government.
It is important to realize that without a revenue loss of approximately $30 million dollars over a three year period caused entirely by the state’s take away of property tax dollars, Santa Barbara County would not be facing a budget shortfall.
The state’s basic shift of county discretionary dollars away from this county and counties statewide without a corresponding reduction in state mandated costs is the most serious problem county government faces. Yet it is exactly this atmosphere that gives rise to the opportunity to seek the kind of change in management direction that the Grand Jury recommends.
The above narrative speaks to Grand Jury Findings No. 1 and 2, 4 and 5 and Recommendations Nos. 1 a-c, 2, 4 a-c and Sa. The County Administrator’s listing of Board accomplishments at pages 18-20 are worthy achievements and should not be overlooked in any overall assessment.