A lot of private companies and government agencies have been forced to downsize over the past several years. Plumas County is no exception. More than a quarter of the county’s workforce has been cut loose since the recession began.
But one job the county needs to consider filling — and soon — is the administrative officer post. Some would argue the CAO is the most important job in the county. Not having a good CAO is like having a ship without a captain or a team without a coach. Would you want to fly into a major airport that didn’t have an air-traffic controller?
Many critical issues that reach the Board of Supervisors go through the CAO’s office. The CAO’s responsibilities show up in many resolutions. The CAO is supposed to oversee the county departments and act as a buffer between the county’s department heads and the board. It’s an important job.
When the supervisors fired CAO Jack Ingstad last fall, it was the right thing to do. Ingstad had lost the board’s trust and the workers’ respect. Ingstad himself admitted it was time for him to move on after seven years on the job.
But we didn’t know that a new CAO wouldn’t be moving in.
Instead, the supervisors are trying to absorb the CAO’s responsibilities by divvying up the duties amongst themselves. Some of the duties the supervisors simply aren’t qualified or authorized to perform.
Just recently the board had to pass a resolution to allow the Board of Supervisors chairman to act as the county’s purchasing agent (a duty previously assigned to the CAO). The board chairman had been signing checks without proper authority.
Then there are the daily tasks that simply fall through the cracks. It recently came to light that the courts owe the county $25,000 for shared courthouse costs, but nobody is tasked with ensuring that the money is collected.
The board’s effort to save money by not hiring a CAO is certainly well-intentioned, but it’s not practical, and could end up costing the county as much or more money than it saves.
Last year’s budget workshops are anotherexample. The supervisors spent more than a month listening to department heads try to justify their respective departments’ worth. The board did an admirable job and the workshops helped lead to a balanced budget. But more than 100 hours were spent in the process that proved to be as much on-the-job CAO training for the supervisors as it was a cost-cutting exercise. The expense of paying for the department heads’ and consultants’ time would have gone a long way toward paying a CAO’s salary.
It also set a bad precedent. Instead of reporting directly to a CAO, county department heads could start pleading their case directly to a supervisor whom they feel might best support them. It’s a formula for chaos and wasted time and money.
This year’s deficit in the county’s general fund will likely be just as large as last year’s. And voters sent a strong signal by voting down two tax measures that could have added about $800,000 in extra revenue for the county. The message was clear: Make do with what you have.
Now, more than ever, a good, strong, financially savvy leader is needed to help guide the county through this fiscal storm. The Plumas County grand jury said exactly the same thing in its 2012 report that blasted the county supervisors.
The supervisors shouldn’t be criticized for a lack of effort. Their willingness to take on the CAO’s duties should be commended. But we elect our supervisors for their ability to make tough decisions, have vision, and lead us down the right path. We don’t elect them to crunch numbers or decide how much a department should spend on office supplies.
Plumas County needs a good, honest, full-time CAO, not five well-meaning part-timers. The board shouldn’t cut corners or lower standards in order to get a new CAO in place by next week, but it needs to start the recruitment process.
If the supervisors want to save tens of thousands of dollars, they can do it by spearheading the recruitment process themselves. They are proving to be a “hands-on” board and they, better than anyone, know what they want in a CAO.