The Board of Supervisors Tuesday balked at giving chief administrator Clifford Graves authority to fill 10 new jobs he says are necessary to implement Proposition A without a fuller explanation of just what the added workers would do.
The initiative approved by county voters in November weakens the authority of supervisors while strengthening Graves' position, and three of the five supervisors showed they were reluctant to give Graves complete freedom to build the new bureaucracy he says he needs to implement changes called for in the ballot measure.
The supervisors Tuesday approved addition of the 10 positions but withheld from Graves for at least two weeks the authority he will need to fill the jobs. The board also ordered Graves to return with a better explanation of how the new employees will be used to fulfill the requirements of the proposition, which was backed by 59% of voters.
The board session revealed some of the strain caused by the dramatic transition taking place in county government--which spends nearly $1 billion each year in administering public health, welfare and criminal justice systems.
Proposition A combined with the election of three new supervisors to the five-member board appears to have brought an end to the decentralized way much of the county's day-to-day affairs were handled for decades.
Proposition A prohibits supervisors from dealing directly with the county's 24 department heads or their staffs. Instead, supervisors must direct requests for action through the chief administrative officer, who will also have the power to hire and fire department heads without consulting the board.
'I want to know . . . whether the system is functioning.' --George Bailey The new power, however, makes Graves more accountable to the board. Like the manager of a baseball team or the chief executive of a corporation, Graves will now be held responsible and could conceivably be fired if his "players" do not perform up to expectations.
"This is a radical new direction of the county we're setting forth on," Graves said. "What I'm proposing is my best guess as to what is necessary to do the job well."
That "best guess" includes the hiring of the 10 new employees, at a cost of more than $400,000 a year. Among the additions are employees to oversee items placed on the board's agenda (because all department heads' suggestions must now pass through Graves) and to track the progress of questions posed by board members. Under the old system these questions would have gone directly to county staff members instead of to Graves.
The price tag on Graves' package, approved in concept a week ago, caught some supervisors and Proposition A supporters by surprise, prompting Tuesday's discussion. New Supervisors Susan Golding and Brian Bilbray refused to approve Graves' request without a more detailed description of what tasks each new worker would be doing.
The two supervisors said that at least two of the positions requested by Graves did not appear to have been prompted by Proposition A, a fact Bilbray said could haunt the board as it seeks voter approval for future changes in the form of amendments to the county's charter.
"We have just started down this path of redesigning the county for the next century," Bilbray said. "I'm concerned that we be very careful that the public isn't perceiving this action as the cost of a charter amendment they weren't told about."
Golding said: "The dollars spent may be perfectly justifiable. Once that plan is approved, I'll stand back and want the chief administrative officer to manage the county. But before I approve an increase in allocations for the CAO's office, I have to have a more detailed implementation plan."
Supervisor George Bailey, though he supported Graves' efforts, said Graves "owes it to us" to provide more details about his plans.
But Graves said he was eager to move forward with the changes after months of planning and discussions.
"I guess because I have lived with this thing for so many months, I'm anxious to get this thing going and not just talk about it anymore," he said. "I'd like to show you what I'm doing and not what I would like to do."
Graves' position was backed by Supervisor Leon Williams, who argued that further delay would leave the board open to question about its commitment to Graves. Supervisor Paul Eckert argued that the board could not ask Graves to implement Proposition A and at the same time deny his request for additional funding.