Recently, my opponent issued a release stating that one of his first actions if he became Chair would be to try to eliminate the Department of Environmental Services. It’s well-known that this department came under some scrutiny when two of the currently seated councilors bypassed proper hiring process and appointed their friend, Don Benton, to lead the department. And while I agree with many, many others in our community that their actions were wrong, and while I also agree that Don Benton is not qualified to lead that department, I also believe that good governance means looking at the bigger picture and considering all of the consequences.
I appreciate my opponent’s passion, but in my experience I’ve seen that government is a lot like driving. If you make a bad turn and slam the wheel the other way to try to fix it, you usually just end up in a ditch, worse off than you were before.
We can fix this bad situation, but we need to be sensible about how we do it, and also respect the rules of the Charter that the citizens voted in.
A lot of folks who don’t have the history don’t even know why we have a Department of Environmental Services. It started up as a result of the Endangered Species Act. As more and more state regulation was placed on the county, the new environmental department, AND the public works department, AND the building department expanded to meet the needs of the new regulations. It was complicated and cumbersome and anyone who needed to get a permit has to spend more and more time and money going from department to department.
At great time, expense, and effort, we re-worked the departments. We shifted responsibilities, took employees from each area, and made a more streamlined and effective system to create the department we currently know as environmental services. And even though county commissioners made a huge mistake when they appointed their friend to be a figurehead for the department, the staff there have served the county admirably and done great work.
Just deciding to do away with the department would be short-sighted--and, under the new charter, it isn’t even within the purview of the county councilors.
The question must also be asked: If it weren’t Don Benton in that position right now, would we even be having this discussion?
Don’t get me wrong -- I think Don Benton’s appointment to that position was the wrong choice, it was done in the wrong way, and it has cost county taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to clean up this mess. But even with all that, if you’re making policy about one person, then that’s bad policy.
When I am Chair, I will ask for an open and honest work session with the budget office, the auditor’s office, and the people who use the department for permits. Good governance and healthy operations are what we must strive for in running the county. We shouldn’t just add on to the drama.
If, after reasonable and objective analysis, it becomes clear that money will be saved, and we see how we can keep permit time and costs down if we do away with the department, and we make every effort to listen to the great employees in the department, then and only then would I ask the council to work with the county manager to make a change.
It is not the council’s or the council Chair’s job to manage staff. That is now the job of the county manager. As chair I will respect the county manager’s role, and also lead an open and honest discussion with the council and the manager about how our county leadership should conduct themselves. I will ask that all staff and especially all department heads be respectful to everyone--and that includes the press. I will also encourage the county manager to develop and implement stronger policies regarding employees who have multiple jobs. It’s my belief that if an employee must be away from their job in order to perform the work of another job, then they should take unpaid time off. I will express that to the council and the county manager, and request that personnel policies be updated. But I will also recognize that the council does not manage staff, and I will not act in a way that presumes otherwise.