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Analyst: County has no management policies beyond "keeping the boat afloat"

As county supervisors try to figure out how to recruit and retain employees, former county Analyst Louie Valdez said leadership is non-existent and board should hire new leadership.
Melinda Casillas cannot hire anyone until human resources figured out the financial impacts of doing so.
Marty Richman said the county has fewer employees per population than surrounding counties.
According to Louie Valdez, the board of supervisors should hire someone to replace County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa.

During the April 10 special meeting of the San Benito County Board of Supervisors, staff and supervisors waded into the county’s persistent concern: the ongoing shortage of qualified employees. While County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa reassured board members that the county is approaching succession and retention systematically, qualified analysts do not feel the county is moving fast enough or with a solid plan.

Former County Analyst Louie Valdez said in a recent BenitoLink interview he believes what is really needed is experienced, knowledgeable leaders, who he said, "…do not exist in the county at this time.” He stated that this can only be accomplished by the “…board appointing a different County Administrative Officer and other department directors.”

Valdez, who left March 23, took a similar position in Napa County citing a number of reasons, pay and benefits being just two, but professional development was high on the list as well.

Valdez said the way to look at why San Benito County cannot efficiently provide needed services is to compare the number of staff now to before the Great Recession of 2008. He said every department is operating with a fraction of the staff size they once had. For instance, he pointed out that today there are fewer than half a dozen people working on the road crew when before the recession there were 35. He said it’s no wonder roads can’t be repaired.

In the exit-style interview, Valdez said, “The problem is you have a very conservative approach to how you manage these types of things. That has to change.”

The April 10 special meeting, held to discuss policies and departmental needs in order to develop the Fiscal Year 2018/2019 budget, seemed to support Valdez’s opinions.

Treasurer-Tax Collector Candidate and current Budget Officer Melinda Casillas told supervisors that the county would not be able to hire anyone to fill vacant positions until after the human resources department reviewed potential impacts and met with bargaining units.

Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz then asked if there is an existing succession plan.

“We have implemented some succession planning tools incorporating duties and responsibilities of individuals within their office to import those so when new employees come onboard they can at least read that,” Espinosa said. “There’s a lot to this and it’s not just one piece. We just need to continue and elaborate further on. So the answer is ‘yes.’”

De La Cruz responded guardedly: “I wanted to make sure you’re not just adding words to this policy and we don’t do anything and say we’ll revisit it next year, and then next year.”

Espinosa explained, “There’s a lot of work and issues to be addressed with classifications. With that is a succession plan. Those two items will be really key this year.”

During public comment, Hollister resident Marty Richman told the board that San Benito County has the highest turnover rate than any other of the surrounding counties.

“We have to bring somebody in,” Richman said. “We have to get them trained and we have to hope we didn’t make a mistake because you never know with a new person. Almost every meeting I go to, it’s peppered with ‘We don’t have enough staff to do this or do that.’”

Richman said the county has the fewest number of employees per population and that within driving distance the competition is a lot higher for more money to do the same jobs.

“The gap is huge,” he said. “If you’re up in Tuolumne County that huge gap doesn’t mean as much because nobody is driving every day down to Santa Clara County. But if you’re here, they are.”

In similar vein with Valdez, Richman said the county is overdue for conducting a comprehensive staff analysis to develop a plan to stop the flow of trained staff to other counties. He said San Benito County only has a few options.

One is to make sure the county hires the right people along with enough support staff for them. Another is to only hire mid-level people. No matter the choice, Richman said the county has to come up with a plan.

“The residents of this county are paying for our inability to staff properly,” Richman said.

“It’s really difficult for us,” Espinosa responded. “We have a very low amount of revenue coming in. However, we are competing with very high salaries.”

Former employee Valdez believes there are answers to the problem, the first of which is a determination of what the board wants San Benito County to look like. He said there is presently no workforce development plan in place to address staffing needs. He said there should be a concrete, methodical approach to increase revenues, and then communicate it consistently to residents to get their buy-in.

“Right now all you have is ‘keeping the boat afloat,’” Valdez said. “You have a General Plan that’s not really a plan. It is a plan managed by the state. It’s kind of an outline of how you’re going to manage these things. What is the actual policy to that end that’s being fulfilled to address those problems? They don’t really have one.”

 

 

(See recent BenitoLink stories related to salaries).

https://benitolink.com/news/supervisors-vote-themselves-375-pay-raise-or-it-really-557

https://benitolink.com/news/no-pay-raise-supervisors

 

 

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Comments

For the record, my remarks were based on my own observations, listening to discussions at board meeting after board meeting, and my personal analysis of the data from the last set of CalPERS evaluation reports dated June 30, 2016 along with the historical transfer counts those reports contain.  I was aware that Mr. Valdez thought we were short staffed, but I've gotten that exact same opinion form several other current or former county employees.  I've spoken about it several times before at county meetings.

My research:  As a percent of active CalPERS Miscellaneous Classic employees our historical transfer (turnover) rate is 60,8 percent, Monterey County is 29.1 percent, Santa Cruz County 26.0 percent and Santa Clara County is 9.5 percent.

What does the re-staffing, learning curve, productivity and newbie errors cost?  It appears that no one knows. 

I had nothing to do with Mr. Valdez' remarks, his and mine occurred at approximately the same time purely by happenstance.  In fact, I recently wrote an opinion piece on the same subject which is at the editor's desk right now.  It is not surprising that the same serious problem and its impacts can come to the attention of more than one person.  We are not in cahoots.

Marty Richman

Louie Valdez is correct. Though in my experience, he was part of the problem when he worked here who was completely overwhelmed by the lack of resources - forced by executive edicts -  to perform critical tasks by competent managers. He is telling the truth to power, but nobody is really listening. 

San Benito County has no vision for fiscal prosperity, economic development, commercial/industrial growth, critical infrastructure maintenance funding or serious prospects for higher education/college campus opportunities that will develop informed future leaders with the perspicacity and ability of improving the quality of life for future generations. 

Decade after decade and generation after generation, we elect leaders with a 20th century mindset determined to limit growth and the predictable consequential result of retarding the attraction of new businesses and industries.

San Benito County is the victim of inter-generational, incestuous incompetence focused on maintaining the status quo...and we like it that way. We get the government we deserve because we continue to elect leaders like Botelho and Muenzer who are incapable of the critical thinking skills necessary to plan and execute public policy that will achieve the kind of long term goals that will enable the county to compete with neighboring counties with superior levels of competent, well educated and disciplined staff who follow best management practices.

For now, they can keep the boat afloat, but only in an isolated economic reservoir contaminated with Zebra mussels with which no other county will interface; a metaphor for a county that loves to cripple itself by way of incompetent leadership.

 

Submitted by (Bill Healy) on

I personally agree that all of the current Board of Supervisors (those that have not made a decision o move to another position or office) should not be voted into their offices again. Whose fault is this situation-The Board of Supervisors. It is their job to move this county add and react to the needs of the county.
I agree with need a better administrator than we currently have. His pay is around $200,000 a year + benefits and expenses. His job is not to the whims of the Supervisors but to lead the county. I think this position should be changed to an elected position rather than beholding to the Supervisors as it currently positioned. Remember Espinosa was the person who recommended the BOS get a salary raise of 45%. Who was taking carry of their bosses when we can’t hire people to fill jobs?

Everyone should read the Grand Jury’s last 5 years reports on this county to see we have a majority of the top positions being filled by consultants who are here today and gone tomorrow. Where is the continuity and succession in this direction Mr. Espinosa?

We need strong leadership people who can look at a problem and then thinking it trough to a long-term solution. We don’t need to continue to vote in the good old boys that live next store. If we continue down this path it will get to degrade our community and our lifestyle. Just look at the last 10 years and ask yourself the following questions..
• Is my community/lifestyle better now than it was in 2008
• Is my commuting time better off than in in 2008
• Is our Sheriff's department better staffed than in 2008
• Is Fire Deptarment better staffed now than in 2008
• Are our taxes being use to improve our community

If you answered "no" to at least two questions, then don't vote for an incumbent!

Submitted by (Jan Saxton) on

I think the elephant in the room that is not being addressed is the need to increase revenue to the county. Currently, the only plan for revenue is to keep issuing building permits, but residential development fees are far outweighed by the eventual need to service all those new homes with roads, police, fire, schools and other infrastructure. So ultimately our biggest source of revenue is just creating bigger deficits. No wonder we can't balance our books or hire competent staff. We need to quit building houses and start attracting industries and jobs that are compatible with our county's rural lifestyle.

Submitted by Valerie Egland (valerie egland) on

The old adage is, "You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip."  Maybe the county community needs to be seriously considering and advocating for a higher sales tax, the most egalitarian method of raising funds.  If I'm not mistaken, all those counties around us that can afford better management and staff have had higher sales tax rates all along.  We fear that the tax hike may turn shoppers and buyers away, but with a good campaign to inform the community about the advantages of shopping local, they will understand what we're up against.

Having been to many BOS, Parks, COG, LAFCO and Planning meetings, my heart goes out to the Staff of our SBC governmental agencies.  They're like a 'single parent family', squeezed by all the responsibilities, and left alone to deal with it.

Our unincorporated area has one of the lowest sales tax in the region. Highway 25 has a 330+ million price tag for improvements and CALTRANS has never paid much attention to San Benito County. IF a building moratorium were to happen you can kiss any chances goodbye of widening that highway. We either pony up or put up with the mess on 25 and it’s only going to get worse with full buildout of projects on the books. Anyone that tells you a moratorium for traffic concerns is workable does not understand planning, economics and regionally mandated housing requirements.  Personally I work diligently on the City Planning Commission to bring a better product to Hollister. I don’t often write about planning anymore because I do represent a Commission with five members and I reserve my comments for public meetings but we are at a crossroad and moratoriums have never been and never will be an appropriate tool for managing planning. I guess much has changed at the County since I worked there; most notably staff. If politics would just stay out of planning we would get a better product all the way around. 

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