Several proposals on Tuesday’s county board agenda would reduce supervisors’ direct oversight on some matters – including out-of-state travel – with a goal of streamlining several processes.
The county board will consider three items on Tuesday’s regular meeting agenda that would give more authority to the county administrative office on some approval processes.
They include proposals to no longer require board approval on out-of-state travel for employees on trips costing less than $4,000, no longer requiring supervisors’ consent when hiring most department heads, and increasing the dollar amount for purchases that would need board approval.
The proposals will go before the board at their 9 a.m. meeting at the San Benito County Administration Building, 481 Fourth St., in Hollister.
The recommendations follow discussions in recent meetings where supervisors questioned staff or rejected recommendations outright on related items.
As for specifics on the three proposed changes:
County staff is recommending to end a practice of getting supervisors’ consent for out-of-state travel on all trips costing less than $4,000. Currently, the board must OK all out-of-state trips. The change would revoke a policy put in place during the Great Recession that added a layer of accountability for such travel expenditures.
With the purchasing policy, the recommendation for Tuesday is to let the CAO enter into contracts that don’t exceed $50,000 without supervisors’ consent and for department heads to enter into contracts that don’t exceed $10,000.
As for the proposed policy on hiring of department heads, the recommendation is to allow the CAO to hire most department heads without the board’s consent, with the exception of roles appointed under certain provisions of California law such as the county counsel and agriculture commissioner, according to the agenda.
Neither supervisors nor the CAO’s office saw it as a power shift. Rather, they viewed them as changes that would increase efficiency in the county.
Deputy CAO Edgar Nolasco said the intention of changing the out-of-state travel policy is to address emergency or urgent situations where there might not be enough time to come before the board.
“it might not read like that, but that’s not the intent of it,” Nolasco said.
Nolasco said the changes are meant to streamline processes and not take away any consent from the board.
“That’s done during the budget process,” he said. “The way I look at it is, the budget is set by the board.”
As for the department head policy, Nolasco said it’s routine in other counties to have the CAO report to the board and make decisions on those top staff members. If the board is involved, he said it could politicize the process.
Supervisor Anthony Botelho told San Benito Live the county is trying to “improve efficiency and timeliness of some key decisions” made by the local government.
“A lot of those constraints were put in place, especially during the recession when we were just watching our finances real close and we wanted to make sure everybody was on the same page,” Botelho said.
Botelho said the hope is to have departments plan their spending during the budget process and let the staff manage those dollars.
“As long as we’re within balancing our general fund, having prudent reserves, and we don’t have kind of a runaway contingencies that are being added to different departments, I’m fine with it,” Botelho said. “I don’t think a county supervisor should be micromanaging the day-to-day operations.”
With an overall budget eclipsing $200 million, Botelho said it’s important to trust staff. If there’s a problem under revised policies, he said the board can make adjustments.
“I think we have a very strong group of department heads right now and a very responsible staff,” he said.
Supervisor Mark Medina also commented Monday that it’s important for the board members to keep a close eye on the budget throughout the year and through quarterly updates.
“So basically, when you’re looking at the budget, if they ever exceed their budget, they have to come to us,” Medina said.
When asked about the possibility that departments may feel inclined to spend surpluses, Medina said he doesn’t believe the mentality of “use it or lose it” exists in the county.
“If it doesn’t play out, all we need is three people to change that again,” Medina said.
If the staff proposes a new travel expenditure that supervisors didn’t previously approve, he said, “maybe we do need to come to the board to discuss it.”
Supervisor Jim Gillio said he wants to see policies that make purchasing more efficient.