Civic Center officials, reflecting on the job of governing Marin County, say they want to nurture a dynamic, creative county workforce, focus on Marin’s environmental heritage, maintain fiscal discipline while proceeding with civic improvements, and work on key issues ranging from climate change to homelessness and social inequity.
County supervisors, convening off site and off camera Tuesday with a handful of administrators for an unusual retreat at the Throckmorton Fire Station to discuss “major trends, organizational business plan and potential focus areas,” agreed informally that the board’s collegial nature is a ticket for success.
“Even when we do disagree, there are no grudges,” Supervisor Damon Connolly said of the board’s five progressive Democrats. “We live to fight another day,” added Connolly, the board’s newest member, who most notably cast a dissenting vote on payments from what he calls the county board’s community “slush fund.”
This week’s session was lead by County Administrator Matthew Hymel, who was joined by two top aides and personnel chief Joanne Peterson. Hymel said it was important “to make sure we’re on the same page going forward ... make sure we’re adopting the best way possible.” In short, he added, “we’re a good team, but how can we get better?”
Although county coffers are filling as property tax revenues rise 5.8 percent, or about 1.8 percent more than expected, expenses are escalating as well, with costs including replacing the Civic Center roof, a job that could range anywhere from $8 million to $20 million. “Should we issue a bond to meet some of these needs?” Hymel wondered. He also noted a need to plug staffing gaps, including county communications activities where “we need to do a better job ... with social media.”
Other expenses include worker’s compensation, which hit an estimated $8.7 million this year, or $2.7 million more than expected, “primarily because of public safety” claims, Hymel said. Retired safety employees generate most costs in light of state law allowing them to claim compensation for ailments years after they leave the workforce. Twenty-three sheriff’s deputies are now on disability leave allowing them to collect full benefits while taking up to a year off.
“Under the rules we have, we are doing the best we can,” Hymel said.
Supervisors raised a number of pressing issues, including homelessness. “We got to do more,” Supervisor Steve Kinsey said, calling for a “meaningful discussion” during county budget deliberations.
One possibility, he said, is pursuing a homeless facility on San Rafael’s St. Vincent’s tract. San Rafael area Supervisor Connolly later said he was “open to all” proposals.
Connolly reported “really making progress” on Marinwood Plaza, with “a number of bidders potentially coming forward” to buy the entire site. He called for a “stronger relationship with our schools” but offered no specifics, and said department heads need to focus on how to execute and “how to succeed” rather than merely “share information” at their weekly meetings.nt
Kinsey raised a shopping list of issues, saying the county needs to push for “equal justice for all,” figure out how “we can really value diversity and build it into our business,” consider how to transform Marin City into a better community, review the budget for curbing pension liability and take action to speed permit approvals.
Supervisor Judy Arnold said shepherding the SMART train program is a key issue, but added preservation of Marin’s rural heritage looms large as well, with critics of housing along the freeway threatening Marin’s fundamental eastern “corridor” development philosophy. “Do we want to see more development in Nicasio?” she asked with an inflection indicating the answer was no way. Connolly said did not think the county housing debate would lead to rural development. “This board isn’t for a moment thinking about abandoning A-60 zoning,” added Supervisor Katie Rice.
“Potholes,” Arnold said at another point. “We really have to stay on top of that,” she added. ”Our roads are in really bad shape.”
Rice urged a “realistic look at what our resources are” and develop creative ways to get things done without depleting the budget. She called attention to the county’s prescription drug abuse epidemic and added she will “stay focused ... on the Ross Valley flood control.”
Officials expressed support for social equity, with several noting a “strong start” ballot issue campaign is in the works to fund preschool, healthy and child-care programs. All seemed to agree the county workforce needs more training, recognition and opportunities for advancement while developing a “creative problem-solving culture.”
“It’s good to understand where your colleagues are coming from,” Hymel noted. “There are so many areas of common interest” he observed. ”Some boards don’t have that.”
And yet despite consensus, change doesn’t come easily, Kinsey noted, citing a lack of “throughput” on a county pledge to speed permit processing. “Why is it so hard ... to change?” he asked.