Thursday, 01 December 2022

Murphy: County’s excuse for staff losses doesn’t hold up

In recent years, a frequently repeated story has come from our county government that hiring and retaining good top-level employees has become increasingly difficult due to our low pay, and this is the explanation for why we have lost a number of experienced high-level staff members.

The most recent departure from the county management roster is our registrar of voters, who had been on the job for less than six months before heading towards greener pastures.

The problem with the county’s version of events is that there is ample evidence that a force other than our low pay scale is encouraging county upper level staff to depart, and that the same force has caused turmoil among the rank and file in the past as well.

In fact, years ago a large contingent of county employees went before the Board of Supervisors to voice their dismay at how this force had been negatively affecting their workplace, causing them unnecessary stress while destroying their morale.

This weird sort of mutiny was quickly forgotten by the BOS and life went on, until no one could be found to run the Registrar of Voters Office. Now the problem can’t really be ignored any longer, as that same force has not only cost us the most qualified and experienced registrar of voters imaginable – but her replacement as well!

This leaves the Registrar of Voters Office with no permanent department head as we go into the primary season, and no chance of hiring a replacement before the next election.

The “force” mentioned above is the county administrative officer, Carol Huchingson, whose management style has cost the county dearly in terms of lost talent and lost tax dollars spent on hiring and training replacements – not to mention the lost productivity.

The truth is, people are willing to work for less money here but they are not willing to work under Huchingson, who has consolidated much of the control of county government into her office and lobbied to end the independent status of the Registrar of Voters Office.

Three different things can happen: We can keep losing good people for bad reasons, or Huchingson can stifle her less-endearing managerial traits and stop micromanaging her staff, or our BOS can find a new county administrative officer.

The BOS is always hesitant to fire management staff and especially a county administrative officer, since it would be a tacit admission that they had goofed up hiring them in the first place.
The other reasons that sort of thing doesn’t happen much is if you need to replace someone, that means a fair amount of work doing the recruiting and screening-and it probably means spending some money to hire someone to do it. It always takes a while for a new hire to get up to speed and it's always a gamble they will work out too, more reasons the replacement option isn’t popular.

So now the BOS has to make a decision, which since the elections are right around the corner we can assume will be whatever is the safest option, meaning that the urge to pretend that everything is just fine and having six or seven different people in a year or so run the Registrar of Voters Office is normal will be very hard to resist.

But one thing does have to end: Never again can the county use the excuse of low pay for the loss of its staff, because now everyone knows the truth.

Phil Murphy lives in Lakeport, California.

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