Has the Citizens’ Committee been a waste of our resources?
<<<A letter to the editor>>>
….The Curry County Reporter — January 25, 2012….
As a Citizens’ Advisory Committee member, below are my views on thehigh point, the most disappointing point, the lamest point, and some in-between points. The high point was during the December 15, 2011 meeting and listening to a presentation by two co-chairs of a small committee (5-7 people) from Coos County addressing a problem similar to that of Curry County. Their group had interviewed approximately 60 county personnel. These interviews included looking at interdepartmental communication, work flows, sharing of data, duplication of data input, etc. When asked if their group had suggested any tax/revenue possibilities, they offered that subject had not been seriously looked at. The opinion was that the organizational structure first required major work and improvement which could result in significant dollar savings. For more go to: http://www.co.coos.or.us/structure/Documents/conclusion11-30-2011.pdf.
The most insulting point was the general conversation tone from members of Oregon Consensus, the ‘advisory’ group assigned to coordinate and oversee the Citizens’ Committee. Their initial introduction November 30, 2011 left me feeling these educated folks were compelled to ‘dumb’ us common folk down to a pliable controllable consistency prior to telling us what to do. Just prior to the December 15 meeting the advisors provided all members a one page document containing ‘Ground Rules’ and ‘General Principles’ along with a page containing ‘TASKS and a TIMELINE’. My reaction to the first document was oh my, this is what is coming out of our state colleges today. The TIMELINE showed a completion date of February 1, 2012 which in my opinion was a fraction of the time required to thoroughly address the issues. The most honest point (finally) was January 12, 2012 when an advisor when asked what was so magic about the February 1 deadline replied, “I think one of the reasons for that time frame was that if there is something to be put on a ballot, that has to be done in March. That’s something the commissioners have said.” The most infuriating point was December 14, 2011 when the commissioners ignored ‘Ground Rule’ number 6. “We commit to building trust by doing what we say we will do.” For more go to http://www.currycountyreporter.com/news/results.cfm?story_no=8116.
The most mind numbing point was learning on January 10, 2012 that the timeline had been moved up two weeks. One committee member commented to the advisors they had taken the original inadequate schedule that did not allow sufficient time and reduced that time by two weeks.
The lamest point was an advisor’s rebuttal to the member objecting to the timeline change above. “Remember during the first meeting we did discuss that the timeline would shift because ah, we were discussing that we weren’t ready to go to the next process and so forth so, I do remember that we did discuss that. I’m not sure that’s only in my head. Ah, so [laughing] please correct me if I’m wrong ah, and there was a new timeline that was sent out which I gave you a copy of last meeting. Ah, so there is a shift in the timeline yes. And we’re doing it because we heard it from you. I mean we’re not doing it because we thought it was the best process but we heard that you needed a shift in the timeline and that’s fine and if there’s further shifts that need to happen please let us know. We’re ready to adjust your needs.”
The most disappointing point was spending an enormous amount of time reviewing data provided to the committee, following the rules, and providing questions to the advisors that were never answered. December 23, 2011 six emails were sent to the advisor. Each had one to five questions. Each covered a particular subject and was cc: to the county employee most likely to answer the question(s). An explanation and reason for each question was also provided. For example, the county finance director was asked, “What are the current total cumulative negative balances (liabilities) of county departments by individual department?” The county attorney was asked, “What types of decisions now made by the commissioners may not be delegated to and made by others?” The county attorney was asked five questions regarding mandated services including, “What categories currently mandated and provided may not be subcontracted or outsourced to a third party?” The Sheriff was asked for a breakdown of a 40 percent benefit figure used in his presentation November 30, 2011. (Sheriff acknowledged forwarding the question to accounting department). Side note: One file requested November 30, 2011 was provided January 13, 2012 by the county finance director. The file was created back in July 2011. Why did it take six weeks to provide a file that already existed? The most shocking point was determining from the county master payroll that the 40 percent benefit figure was actually 65 percent (average). A work sheet was provided and reviewed with the Sheriff January 13, 2012.
My final opinion: sadly the Citizens’ Committee was an enormous waste of resources. Oregon Consensus, which was created by the Oregon Legislature in 2005, is nothing but more, bigger, government. Their advisors were not skilled or experienced in the organization and running of a public or private entity. They were skilled to some degree in mediating disputes. No credible recommendations or discussions were initiated before the full committee regarding any county benefit reductions, which in their current form are simply not sustainable. The manner in which this project was handled goes to the root problem. There was no comprehension of what was entailed nor the time required to properly look at the structural foundation of the county or anything else for that matter. As for staff not responding to questions or requests, that also goes to the root problem and the lack of accountability, the lack of consequences for such behavior, the lack of integrity, and ultimately the lack of credibility.