Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A note to the supervisors

Yesterday, the county board of supervisors held a workshop on ethics, governance, guidelines and procedures, etc. I didn't attend. But I did send them a note in advance. Here's what it said ...

Dear Chairman Novelli and Members of the Board:

I am going to skip your workshop Tuesday because it is a historic day and I plan to spend the morning celebrating our amazing country. However, I'd like to share a few thoughts for your discussion of ethics, responsible governance and leadership, county operating guidelines, etc -- things I might like to say if I did attend. These comments are based on my more than 20 years of interacting with county government, 24 years in public service at the county and state level, and nearly 30 years as a local resident.

I believe that county supervisors should try to:

  • Treat all taxpayers like customers, and build a customer-service driven local government with standards that apply across all agencies. In some state agencies, all staff, including the senior executives, are required to take customer-service training.
  • Train and require staff to do completed staff work before they bring an important issue to you for a decision. A full, written analysis that lays out facts, proposes a variety of alternatives for addressing the issue, analyzes those alternatives, and makes a recommendation can help the board do a better job and ensure that key issues are fully vetted.
  • Ensure the county is governed in a broadly inclusive way. Everyone who lives in this county pays taxes of one kind or another, and we all contribute. We all deserve to be heard and treated with respect, and our opinions considered, whether we are rich or poor, landowners or renters, old or young, from old families or new arrivals, conservative or progressive, Republican or Democrat, etc. We all have an interest in creating a strong, prosperous, sustainable county. Too many people in this county feel they have no say because they are not part of the "good old boy network." You can overcome that alienation by example and help our community move ahead.
  • Ensure that county committees and commissions include broad and balanced points of view and perspectives. That is not only fair -- it will produce better results. Committees about services or programs should include not only the people who provide services, but those who receive or are affected by them. The economic element committee you recently formed could have included representatives of the sizable nonprofit sector (big chunk of local economy, never quantified), the arts, business customers and agricultural product consumers, not only business people and agriculture group reps. If you staff committees and commissions with people who mostly think alike and share the same knowledge and experience, the county will not benefit from the good ideas, networks, energy and critical thinking and analysis that can emerge from a more diverse group.
  • Respect the triple bottom line in all things; economy, people, environment. If you favor any one at the expense of the other two, our county will suffer. Many businesses and institutions have embraced this triple-bottom line approach -- and some have added another element: equity.
  • Not prejudge people who come before the board. It's easy to think you know what someone is going to say, or what they mean, based on a preconceived idea of who they are or what they have done. Instead, supervisors should strive to give them a fair hearing.
  • Involve the public in meaningful, useful ways. Try more workshops and fewer public hearings. Promote conversation and respectful exchange instead of setting up situations where people can only stand up, make statements and sit down. Hold more meetings in the evening and on weekends when working people can attend. Hold more study sessions to learn about issues, inviting experts and the public to participate. Calaveras County has done that for years.
  • Employ innovative technology and broader techniques for public involvement. Many people will not or cannot bring themselves to stand up and speak at a public hearing, but they will answer an online or mail survey, vote confidentially using electronic keypads, or contribute their opinions and insights in other ways.
  • Recognize that you need to cooperate, not compete with the cities, and avoid duplication of services.
I hope these thoughts will help with your discussion.

No comments: