In 2007, the BOS adopted a CEO position which replaced the CAO. While this change establishes greater responsibilities and authority in the CEO position, the BOS has neglected to establish a succession plan to insure a seamless transition in leadership. Presently, there is no formal succession plan for the Mendocino County CEO position. The Assistant CEO position is funded but unfilled.
The BOS routinely issues directives to the CEO but does not adequately track directives or require specific timelines, benchmarks and completion dates. The directives are not published on the county website or accessible to the public unless requested in person. The individual Supervisor must ask the Executive Office for directive status updates. One neighboring county (Sonoma) publishes an “Action List” on its website that lists goals, proposed action, potential activities or projects, status, funding status, primary agency, county role, other county agencies and outside partners, on a chart that clearly provides substantive information regarding what their BOS is pursuing. Additionally, the website provides for constituents to respond to these proposed goals and actions. Changes like these would align the BOS with its aspiration to establish a truly “…responsive and responsible government.”
The published CEO Report could be a great tool for disseminating information to the public and Supervisors. A CEO Report that includes BOS directives with status updates, Sheriff overtime, and major County projects would provide an opportunity to keep constituents fully updated on important issues. The report could also include information on fire recovery efforts and work currently being done to proactively make the County ready for wildfires along with other strategic planning issues. It should be published monthly. While it is available online, consideration should be given to placing the report in locales like the libraries and other community centers, along with local newspapers since not all constituents have access to online information.
The County website needs to be a better communication tool. There is no designated oversight body for maintaining or directing the website content. Each department is individually responsible for updating or adding content. While the BOS web page provides easy access to the agenda, minutes and video for each board meeting, it lacks other critical information. There is no embedded communication/complaint form for constituents to raise critical issues with their individual supervisor. Currently, the web page does not provide direct contact numbers for individual Supervisors. Finally, there is no published process that requires the Supervisors to respond to constituents in a timely manner or even to respond at all.
The BOS meetings provide an important opportunity for concerned citizens to address the Board directly. Public expression is a cornerstone of democratic participation and all citizens availing themselves of this opportunity should feel respected and that their concerns will be considered. While the Brown Act specifies that the Board cannot take action on a non-agenda item, the Act does not prevent Supervisors from acknowledging those who make public comments. Supervisors can ask clarifying questions, can refer matters to staff for further action or advise the speaker if action has already been taken. It is incumbent upon Board members to make speakers feel that their concerns have been taken seriously and this necessitates more than a mere rote “thank you” that is so often the default response of the Chairperson. Further, the minutes of each Board meeting should contain not just the names of those who appear before the Board during public comment, but also a short description of the issue addressed as well.
The BOS Consent Agenda often includes items of a controversial nature, for example, salary increases and cost overruns. This routine inclusion of controversial items in the Consent Agenda prevents debate and public input. While a supervisor can pull any item from the agenda, it would be more efficient to simply follow the established guidelines that determine which items should be included and which should be excluded.
In order for the individual Supervisors to be more responsive to their constituents, regularly scheduled meetings in each district would be beneficial. While some constituents might contact individual supervisors with concerns, the public meeting provides a forum for meaningful engagement and if the meetings are scheduled at least quarterly, the public will have a consistent opportunity to participate in County government.
A DRAFT RESPONSE
by Mark Scaramella
Allow us to save everybody a lot of time dealing with the Grand Jury’s recent complaint about the Supervisors and the CEO by providing this suggested first draft of a response for the Board (based on our extensive experience with prior Board responses):
F1. There is no published long term county-wide strategic planning by the BOS, e.g., fire response, homelessness, cannabis, housing and economic development.
F2. There is no written succession plan for the CEO of Mendocino County.
Response: Agree. And we don’t need one.
F3. The BOS does not adequately track directives given to the CEO. The current list of directives has inadequate status and descriptors and there are no timelines or milestones for completion.
Response: Partially agree. The CEO does this often enough in her CEO report. She has said she will try to include status and milestones in the future.
F4. The CEO Report does not include substantive department updates, e.g. new jail addition, Sheriff overtime, BOS directive status, departmental statistics and major road project status.
Response: The CEO manages the departments as she sees fit. Project updates are already done when necessary and departmental matters are internal management process which the Board and the public have no need nor obligation to interfere with.
F5. The Consent Agenda has often included controversial items, e.g. salary increases and cost over runs.
Response: Budgeted salary increases are acceptable consent calendar items. Budget overruns are covered in quarterly budget reports. Project overruns are infrequent and board policy is that they not be on the consent calendar.
F6. In the BOS minutes, the name of the public speaker is listed but not a description of the issue raised.
Response: There is no legal requirements to summarize public comments in Board minutes.
F7. There are no scheduled proactive meetings with residents of individual districts to speak with their Supervisor.
Response: Individual supervisors may do this on their own, there is no requirement for such meetings in Government code.
F8. The GJ could not find a complaint or issue form on the Mendocino County website.
Response: There is a complaint form on the Planning and Building webpage. Claim forms are also available on line. The Board encourages the CEO and individual supervisors to respond to constituent complaints and inquiries but formalizing this process would put an undue burden on staff.
The Grand Jury recommends:
R1. strategic goals should be formulated by the BOS each year, prioritized and posted on the BOS page of the County website,
Response: County goals are in the County’s General Plan supplemented by annual capital improvement projects which are pursued to the extent funds permit.
R2. develop a succession plan for the CEO position,
Response: If for any reason the CEO cannot perform her duties, the Board will do what it has done in past: hire or appoint a part-time interim CEO, typically a retired CEO from elsewhere in the state, while we engage an outside consulting firm to undertake a nationwide search for excellence.
R3. determine whether an Assistant CEO position is necessary. If the position is not going to be filled, it should be unfunded,
Response: There is no funded Assistant CEO position and no plans for one.
R4. the BOS needs to include expectations for completion at the time directives are given to the CEO,
Response: Circumstances and staff limitations do not permit the firm establishment of completion dates for Board directives.
R5. directive status should include goal, proposed action, funding status and primary agency,
Response: This is already being done via the County’s capital improvement project information in the annual budget. The CEO also updates the Board on directives given when she feels the need to do so.
R6. the BOS meeting agenda should include directives and status updates,
Response: Agree. This is already being done on an as-needed basis.
R7. improve the CEO Report to include information on current major projects, tracking, expenditures and strategic goals,
Response: Already being done on an as needed basis.
R8. the Consent Agenda should not include controversial items, e.g., salary adjustments or cost Overruns,
Response: Agree. It should not.
R9. the BOS minutes should include the name of the speaker and the issue raised during public expression,
Response: See above response to finding F6.
R10. publicized, regularly scheduled district town hall meetings should be held by each Supervisor,
Response: The Board encourages individual supervisors to do this.
R11. the BOS page of the County website should contain an embedded complaint/issue form that requires sender contact information sent directly to the individual supervisor,
Response: Board policy is that all email and written correspondence to the Board be responded to as required. There are no requirements for formalized responses to constituent complains. In addition, Board members are in no position to respond to most complaints and the CEO discourages Supervisors from pursuing complaints with department heads because such referrals require a majority vote of the Board to even be passed along to the applicable department.
R12. the BOS should draft and publish a policy for responding to constituent complaints and issues. The policy should include an expectation of timely response by the Supervisor.
Response: There is no need nor requirement for a formal complaint policy. Constituent complaints are dealt with by individual supervisors as they see fit. (Also, see response to R11.)