In a series of meetings that have cost a total of more than $27,000, supervisors in several Orange County government agencies have been studying managerial techniques over the last few weeks in overnight retreats throughout Southern California.
Sheriff's Department brass spent three days at Lake Arrowhead two weeks ago. Managers for the district attorney's office and the public defender's office attended overnight forums in Palm Springs last week.
And about 120 other managers from other county agencies spent three days in the desert near Beaumont recently meeting with community leaders from Orange County, including a priest who spoke about the homeless, a developer, and a management specialist from UC Irvine.
County Administrative Officer Larry Parrish, who was a strong advocate of management training programs in Santa Barbara before he came to Orange County two years ago, said he sees such conferences as a valuable tool for more efficient operation of county government, and in the long run may end up saving more money than they cost.
"It's the only opportunity in any one year to get county managers together," said Chris Boyd, an Orange County Fire Department administrator. "We say, 'Gee, let's put our departmental issues aside for a while, and let's look at the big picture.' "
The seminar in Beaumont was sponsored by the county management forum, an informal group of government officials ranging from department heads through middle managers. They hold periodic workshop breakfasts in the county administration building for speakers such as developers or city officials from outside county government. They also sponsor social gatherings such as Christmas parties or a day at the race track.
Those functions are paid for with dues the managers pay from their own pockets, said Forest Story, a Personnel Department official who helps direct the management forum. "It's to get some cross-pollination, if you will," Story said.
County Picks Up Tab
Until this year, the managers who attended the forum's annual conferences paid for their own room and board--about $140 each for the entire trip--and were given time off to attend. This year, with the Board of Supervisors and Parrish emphasizing the value of the training, the county paid the tab for the whole conference.
The overnight seminars held by the district attorney's office and the public defender's office were the first such gatherings in more than 15 years.
Both departments scheduled the conferences after the Board of Supervisors last year approved study of a county policy emphasizing management training and development. However, officials from both offices said they did not know whether the conferences would be held again next year.
The management forum seminar cost the county about $21,000 for about 140 people, Story said. Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi said his office's retreat cost $4,695, and Chief Deputy Public Defender Carl C. Holmes said his group's conference cost about $1,500. Sheriff's Department spokesman Lt. Richard J. Olson refused to disclose how much was spent on the department's retreat.
Although the supervisors and Parrish endorse such management training conferences and other programs, the county budget has been getting tighter and tighter in recent years, prompting Story and others to say that the county may not be able to pick up the tab for future seminars.
Volunteers such as Story and Boyd organize the annual management forum, which has been held outside the county for about 10 years. They choose such locales rather than meet in county facilities at less or no cost, in part, they said, to prevent interruptions. If it were any closer, the managers would be too likely to stop by the office or get phone calls about daily problems, they said. "In any learning situation, you have to have that learning environment," Story said. "You can't have distractions."
About 23 managers from the district attorney's office met for two days last week at the Gene Autry Conference Center in Palm Springs.
"It was just an idea whose time had come," said Capizzi, who attended the conference. "It was designed to enhance the managerial skills of the administrative and management employees in the office." Holmes said about 15 people from the public defender's office attended a conference two days before the prosecutors at the same location.
"It was about how to write evaluations, how to provide incentives, how to foster enthusiasm in employees, how to deal with the problem employee," he said. "I think it was very helpful. We haven't been privileged to have much in the way of time or money to spend on management training."
The Sheriff's Department spent three days at Lake Arrowhead, including Veterans Day, a county holiday. About 20 people from the department's managerial ranks, down to the level of lieutenant, attended the managerial training conference.