The Cd’A Press published an editorial last Sunday supporting an organizational change for Kootenai County government. I read the three letters from readers published this past Wednesday and I wanted to offer my input and direct experience on the frustrations of managing county government. I also want to say that I worked with several outstanding elected officials (EO) during my tenure, and my comments are not intended to disparage anyone but rather the structure of county government.
I was a proponent of adopting an alternative form of county government. State law offers several different structures that may be implemented. A change in structure requires a vote of the citizens.
A ballot measure was presented in 2012 and was defeated. I supported the option of a part-time Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the hiring of a county manager to oversee daily administrative functions. The goal was to make our county operations more efficient, thereby saving tax dollars, being more responsive to the electorate and increasing the applicant pool for the office of commissioner. I don’t think we get enough qualified candidates to run for the BOCC because it is a full-time job.
The roles of the commissioner are very different when compared to other elected members of boards such as a school board or city council. About 90 percent of our days are spent in administrative tasks, running the daily operation of county departments that report directly to the BOCC. The other 10 percent of the BOCC’s time is spent in policy consideration, adoption and implementation.
In comparison, a school board or city council works only on the policy issues because they have a manager/administrator in place. In the schools, that individual is the superintendent; in the cities, it’s the city administrator. The city administrator reports directly to the mayor, who is elected by the citizens.
These professionals are responsible for hiring principals at schools and department heads at the city. The professional managers can execute the direction of the policy boards much more efficiently than the BOCC. The editorial in last Sunday’s Press referenced the amount of meetings the BOCC participates in to execute county operations. I encourage readers to attend the Tuesday business meeting the BOCC has each week to see the inefficiency of county operations.
The BOCC signs all contracts for the county, some as mundane as copier maintenance contracts, car washing contracts, grant applications, etc. Each action of the BOCC requires a vote of the board, public notice requirements and several staff members to support the operations of the meetings. The BOCC spends way too much time on these administrative functions instead of reviewing and developing policy for county government. Major policy issues may be land-use ordinances, taxing authority and economic development, as examples.
The BOCC approves the budget for all the EOs. The annual budget is in excess of $80 million each year. In addition, the county now has about 760 full-time positions. This is big business and we need individuals to step up and offer their service to the county.
TOMORROW: A question of quality
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Dan Green was a Kootenai County commissioner from 2010 to 2016. Prior to that, he owned his own business.