Local News

Thursday, Feb 13 2014 05:14 PM

Supervisors trying new way to deal with new business

BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County supervisors have a new way to test drive hot potato issues before the full five-member board starts tossing them around.

But they aren't sure yet whether it's a good idea.

Supervisors voted this week to add five standing committees to Kern County's governmental structure, a move that likely means more public meetings.

Each committee would be made up of two supervisors and meet as needed.

On Tuesday at their regular meeting, supervisors called the idea "another layer of government," saying it would change how they made decisions. Some worried it might encourage political machinations and wondered if running the county of Kern like the city of Bakersfield was a good idea.

But, in the end, they unanimously agreed to try it.

"I'm willing to give it a shot to see if it works," said Supervisor Zack Scrivner.

The committee idea was the brainchild of Kern County Supervisor David Couch, who said issues of serious import could be reviewed by a committee of two supervisors and get an initial thumbs-up or thumbs-down before coming to the full board.

"This structure worked really well at my previous position down the street," said Couch, who left the Bakersfield City Council for the 4th District Supervisors' seat last year.

But the city and the county are drastically different government agencies.

Scrivner, Couch's fellow Bakersfield City Council alumnus, pointed out the very different circumstances members of the two boards face.

For example, unlike supervisors, who are full-time county employees with annual pay of more than $100,000 and a staff, city council members are parttime and receive only a small stipend.

The city council meets every other Wednesday for a few hours.

The board meets for an entire day every Tuesday.

"I don't know whether you can translate how it worked over at the city council to here," Scrivner said.

Supervisor Mick Gleason said his first instinct was to say "Nah...it's another layer of government."

But he decided he'd listen to the idea.

Supervisor Mike Maggard backed Couch, saying the committee structure had "promise."

But he noted there could be unintended consequences to the meetings, such as changing the dynamics of board votes.

While the public was silent during the discussion of the idea Tuesday, department heads were less sure of how the idea will work.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said he didn't have a strong opinion about the committee plan.

He noted the control supervisors could exert over the handful of department heads elected to their offices -- himself and District Attorney Lisa Green among them -- would be minimal.

"They would have a very difficult time directing the sheriff," Youngblood said. "That said, I'm always open to new ideas -- wherever they come from."

He said he's not sure how much control over department heads the board is seeking.

"The one thing I would caution the board against is micromanaging," Youngblood said. "There's a fine line between being a board member and micromanaging a department."

The board already has the ability to evaluate any department head in a closed-door meeting. Youngblood said that gives it plenty of control over individual departments.

County Administrative Officer John Nilon's staff will figure out how to make the new committee structure work.

He said until the county sees how often the board refers issues to a committee, it will be hard to know how much work it will require, when meetings will happen or how issues will move through the system.

The standing committees established by the board are Public Safety, Health and Human Services, Planning and Public Works, Culture, Education and Recreation, and Finance and Administration.

Nilon said the test of the committees will be whether they can streamline the consideration of issues prior to meetings of the full board of supervisors.

Sometimes issues can come before the board two and three times before a final decision is made, he said. Reducing that trend could make the committee work worth it.

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