By David Hollister, District Attorney
Plumas County stands at a tipping point. Many important county departments are facing staffing shortages making meeting basic obligations nearly impossible. Plumas County continues to lose, and not replace, key positions ranging up to mid-management, appointed department heads and even elected department heads.
Every supervisorial candidate should be able to present a plan as to how they would help Plumas County attract and retain capable employees who will provide the core services necessary to sustain our county.
While employee retention is a problem throughout the state and nation, it is nowhere as acute and precarious as in Plumas County. In Plumas County, we are not only losing employees to the private sector and larger, higher-paying counties, we are losing employees to nearby counties like Sierra, Tehama and Colusa. Plumas County is a special and spectacular place to live. I firmly believe given a fair choice, most folks would prefer to live, work and play in Plumas County.
Last month the Plumas County Human Resources website listed 44 job openings. This week that number was 55. In addition to the many openings in important positions throughout the county, the county anticipates openings for the Chief Administrative Officer and the Behavioral Health Director. The situation has become so dire the elected position of County Auditor does not have one candidate running for office and the majority of the other elected officers are running unopposed.
In the DA’s Office we review about 1,000 cases a year, charging roughly 800 and making over 6,000 court appearances on cases ranging from murder to child molestation and arson. The caseload warrants 5 attorneys, we are funded for 3 and have operated, lately, with just 2 prosecutors. We have managed to serve Plumas County well with a strong conviction record and no cases reversed on appeal the last 12 years. Effective May 1st there will be 1 prosecutor for Plumas County – myself. I am doing my best to address an impossible situation. We are fortunate larger offices have offered to lend us a prosecutor from time to time.
Section 35 of Article XIII of the California Constitution provides “public safety is the first responsibility of local government.” Staffed with only one prosecutor, it is likely cases may not be able to be reviewed, appearances may be missed, cases may be dismissed and dangerous offenders may be released. This failing is unacceptable for any county – especially Plumas County where we pride ourselves on the safety our county provides.
If this staffing problem was confined to the DA’s office it would be one thing. It is not. Our Auditor’s Office is gutted, our Sheriff’s Office is understaffed and the list goes on and on and on. What’s more, understaffing will lead to a further exodus as those employees who remain become overburdened with doing the work of 2 or 3 people.
I have addressed this problem with members of the Board of Supervisors both individually and collectively over the last few years. To date there has been no response; there has been no plan; and the Board’s inaction is leaving little hope.
To assist, here are three quick improvements which can start the long process of getting local government staffed, healthy and serving the public:
First, the Board needs to figure out how much money the county has. The County constantly struggles to know the amounts of revenue and expenditures and match the same. This problem is exacerbated with the CAO and Auditor positions unfilled. An example of this problem was last year’s budget where the Board simply took the numbers from the year prior and plugged them into the current year. No discussion – no prioritizing. It is said a budget is a statement of our values. If this is true, our values are in dire need of improvement.
Second, adjust pay, especially for those in department head positions, so it is fair and objective. We want potential employees to aspire to our leadership positions which won’t happen if our department leaders are paid less than entry-level jobs in other counties. The Board does not have to treat these daily county leaders well but should treat them fairly. Approaches involving arbitrary compensation based on “who is nice to who” harm the whole county and needs to stop. Compensation in Plumas County must be fair, objective, targeted to the public good and transparent.
Finally, we have to recruit, vet, hire and retain employees – especially those in key positions directly serving the public. Simply posting job openings on the county website does not cut it. Our competitors in the private sector and in other counties provide better pay and benefits, temporary lodging, relocation costs, hiring bonuses, retention bonuses, etc. Plumas County needs to explore options such as these or run the risk of continuing to be left behind in staffing critical positions.
We simply cannot continue to be the county of “no.” No insight, no innovation, no plan is going to lead to no employees which will lead to no services. This is a time when we need more from our Board of Supervisors, not less.
Before casting your vote for County Supervisor, I encourage every voter to make sure a candidate can answer this question… “What will you do to recruit, hire and retain county employees who make sure the county meets its most basic obligations?”
If a candidate cannot answer this question they should not be honored with the opportunity of serving Plumas County as a supervisor.