By Colin Maycock
To administer or not, that is the question.
This November the voters of San Juan County will be asked to vote for changes to the Charter that governs the County. The provision to grant administrative or executive power back to the County Council is the most worrisome of the proposed changes and should be considered carefully before you cast your vote.
That power was removed from the Council when the Charter was adopted and for good reason. Under the old Board of County Commissioners system the Commissioners had the authority to direct (i.e. meddle with) County staff and their management and, unsurprisingly, the direction from the Commissioners was often politically or personally motivated, usually unethical, and often illegal which, from time to time, led directly to costly law suits that the County inevitably lost with the taxpayers left to bear the costs of the Commissioners rash decisions.
The target, or benefit, of the Commissioner’s direction to staff depended on the spectrum of favorability on which the matter stood. In some cases decisions were made, based not on equal or just application of the code but solely to serve the narrow purposes of the Commissioners.
Often the Commissioners used departments and staff as proxies in their own internecine rivalries and disagreements, with one commissioner demanding a specific result from staff on one day while another commissioner would demand an opposite and mutually exclusive result the following day. If the staff stood their ground and made the proper decision they were then vigorously targeted for termination. Needless to say this led to an institutional paralysis as staff sought BOCC approval for the most minor of administrative tasks and governance ground to a halt in SJC.
The explicit corruption of this type of meddling became so repugnant that an outcry from the community arose with the ultimate outcome being the adoption of the County Charter that added what was expected to be an independent and professional County Administrator responsible for the day to day operation of the County business leaving the responsibility of legislation to the Council.
The Union’s deepest concern is that once again County staff will be subject to the ever changing political and personal views of the Council. The County staff’s duty is to carry out the public’s business without regard to political affiliation or socio-economic status; something staff endeavors to do despite the occasional controversy.
For the time being the public and the County staff has an Administrator to stand between them and what ultimately could be (we say could, but we truly mean the inevitable) pressure and coercion to inequitably apply the county code.
The past interference of the BOCC into the day to day operation of the County was an unmitigated disaster for the public, and a progenitor of a hostile work place for County staff.
It was failure then, it would be a failure this time, and we STRONGLY recommend that you think deeply about the implications that accompany returning administrative powers to the County Council and vote NO on that amendment.
Colin Maycock is President of Local 1849, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)