We begin this editorial with an excerpt from a budget story written by reporter Steve Wathen that was published in last week’s edition of the newspaper. Wathen was covering the board of supervisors’ discussion of the 2017-18 budget, which covered a number of topics including whether or not the new spending plan should include a County Administrative Officer or CAO. The position was cut a number of years back due to financial constraints and has not been restored. Here is part of Wathen’s reporting:
Whether to have or not have a county administrative officer is a controversial issue.
The board decided that it would start the budgeting process with the salary for a CAO included in the budget.
Board Chair Lori Simpson quipped, “Because we are incompetent and need a CAO.”
To which Supervisor Sherrie Thrall also joked, “Then, when we find we are short that amount of money, it will be given the axe.”
Let’s begin with “incompetent.” That’s quite an indictment. Of course, Simpson was being somewhat facetious. She doesn’t really think that the board is incompetent, but she knows that there are those who do. We here at the newspaper have not minced words when it comes to arguing that this board is in dire need of some help. As we have discussed before, while they might be competent in their chosen fields of work, running a multi-million dollar corporation isn’t on any of their resumes. Of course if the national state of affairs is any indication, such experience doesn’t necessarily transfer to public office, but that’s another editorial.
We here at the newspaper have had the luxury of studying boards of supervisors for the past several decades. There are strong boards and not-so-strong boards. At all times they are composed of individuals with varying expertise. It’s important for the supervisors to realize when they are out of their depth in particular areas and seek the necessary guidance. In some respects they have been relying on County Counsel Craig Settlemire to function as a quasi-CAO, but he neither has the time nor the expertise to provide the board all of the guidance it needs.
This isn’t to say that the supervisors aren’t hard working or dedicated to their jobs; we know that they are. We just think that this county could benefit from a professional with the proven experience and skills to assist this board.
And yes, we know that the supervisors will argue that a bad CAO is worse than no CAO. But it’s up to the board to hire a competent individual.
What is perhaps most alarming in Wathen’s report was Thrall’s subsequent comment about including the position in the budget, but giving it “the axe.” It’s cavalier both in tone and intent. Don’t patronize your constituents; prioritize the position.