Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, Feb. 29 @ 4:06 p.m. / Community, Local Government

Employee Retention, Housing, Jobs and Infrastructure Top The List of Priorities Mentioned At Del Norte's Strategic Plan Workshop

Board of Supervisors Chairman Dean Wilson referred to Del Norte County as a rudderless ship and urged the public to weigh in on a strategic plan. | Screenshot

Before he opened the floor to the handful of meeting regulars as well as some new faces on Thursday, Dean Wilson called Del Norte County a rudderless ship.

Wilson, chairman of the Board of Supervisors and District 5 incumbent who hopes to keep his seat following the 2024 election, waived the 3-minute time limit for public comment.

But before he turned the meeting over to the third-party facilitator Del Norte hired to develop its strategic plan, Wilson told the public that many departments are siloed. They focus on their own responsibilities and duties and the county often lacks an overarching vision and goal, he said.

This applies to elected officials including the sheriff, the auditor-controller and the county clerk, Wilson said. Thursday’s workshop aims to help Del Norte County steer a better course, he said.

“This planning session is the beginning of that process to put a rudder on the ship so we can be more efficient and effective [and] have a direction, a heading,” Wilson told the public. “We have plotted a course, and that course is decided by those on this Board that you’ve elected, but also by those of you that have come and have shown up and have been part of this process. I look forward to hearing what you bring — your interest, your concerns and your hopes for the community as we go forward.”

Don Ashton, project manager for Municipal Resource Group, said Del Norte County was ready to create a strategic plan. Ashton spent Tuesday afternoon speaking with elected officials and Wednesday talking with department leaders.

While Del Norte County has strong department leaders, staffing was the top concern for nearly every one of them, Ashton said. They were also concerned about housing, governance and the need to take care of county infrastructure, he said.

County employees are creative at their jobs, he said. If they weren’t creative, they wouldn’t be getting things done, Ashton told supervisors.

“The challenge is if all you’re doing is putting out fires, you don’t have time to think creatively or strategically,” he said.

Though he didn’t discount the need for salary adjustments, Ashton said Del Norte County can’t rely on higher wages to address its staffing shortage. He noted that local governments statewide are struggling to find employees and said Del Norte County can’t compete with counties in the Sacramento region because it doesn’t have the tax base.

Ashton suggested other ways to recruit and retain employees by offering incentives and perks, however he also said Del Norte County elected officials and leaders treat their staff well.

“One of the problems with local governments is everyone’s comparing to everyone else and it seems like compensation keeps going higher and higher and quite frankly, I don’t understand how some counties are going to be able to afford the compensation increases they’re promising to their staff,” Ashton said. “One of the worst things I think could happen is you increase your salaries so much and it lets you hire staff and then an economic downturn comes and you’re laying everybody off. You have to be careful of that.”

Del Norte County is embarking on its strategic plan about two days after County Administrative Officer Neal Lopez presented the mid-year budget review. Though he didn’t provide the overall vacancy rate for the county, Lopez said the county continues to struggle with recruitment and retention.

“It’s a statewide issue that’s not isolated to Del Norte County,” he said. “We have seen an uptick in applications for job openings, which is a positive trend.”

Del Norte County Sheriff Garrett Scott said he’s down seven correctional deputies — out of a total of 22 sworn positions, he only has 14 correctional officers. In the patrol unit, the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office only has nine deputies out of a full complement of 19, Scott told the Outpost on Feb. 15.

The sheriff said he’s also has three dispatchers out of a total of six positions.

Scott, who asked to work with supervisors Wilson and Valerie Starkey on an ad-hoc committee focusing on the sheriff’s office, said his deputies need a competitive salary. He said he’s losing officers to larger communities such as Yuba County where one former DNSO deputy is making $42 an hour. Another deputy left for a $32-an-hour position, Scott said.

Scott said there are three local recruits going through the POST Academy in Eureka, but it will be about four months before they graduate. He also has two detectives that could work patrol, but because of the major incidents, including sexual assaults, that are being investigated, Scott said he was loath to pull them from their current duties.

“I think there’s this competitive crisis that’s going on right now,” he said. “The community is really understanding. We’re working on it, we’re hiring deputies, we’re doing the best we can.”

On Thursday, though the need for housing was a theme among the members of the public who provided input, some of their concerns ranged from more activities for youth as well as the need to make it easier for them to find work locally.

One woman, Amanda Ammon, a Fort Dick resident who works with True North Organizing Network, mentioned opening a Boys & Girls Club in Crescent City, noting the one in Klamath has been successful. She also spoke about the need for on-the-job training as well as providing information and activities for parents.

Ammon said some type of community outreach with a list of job openings and shops that are hiring may be helpful to those adults between 30 and 55 who are struggling.

Ammon also urged county elected officials to reach out to tribal representatives. Speaking as a member of the Yurok Tribe, Ammon said tribal consultation shouldn’t be an afterthought.

“I know usually we’re a check in the little box, but I just want to let you guys know we are here,” she said. “I speak for the Yurok Tribe and I know my brothers and sisters in other tribes, we’re here as a community and we want to all work together. However we can help.

However you guys can help us, we always appreciate that.”
Though she reiterated what she said on Tuesday, Norma Williams, president of the Del Norte County Employees Association, also argued for reminding the state and federal government of what they owe the community for payment in lieu of taxes.

Referring to a panel discussion on offshore wind energy projects, Williams said she felt that previous leaders short-changed the county when the state and federal governments took land off the tax rolls for forest service land and other public lands.

“I wish there was a way we could legally sue them with interest,” she said. “I think if there’s a way we can do that, I’m all for it. I’ll go to Sacramento and DC and bang a few heads together if need be. I’m good at that.”

Williams argued that city and county leaders should foster what they have locally in an effort to bring industry to the area. She pointed to the number of empty buildings in Crescent City’s downtown area that are “literally rotting [and] disintegrating.”
Williams said she felt the building’s edifices need updating and that it puts local entrepreneurs at a disadvantage. She urged renovation and ways to make the downtown area look appealing.

“I’ve been in small towns in the Bay Area that have wonderful thriving downtowns and in very conservative counties too,” she said. “I wish Del Norte County could do that. I wish Crescent City could do that.”

Williams also urged the Board of Supervisors to think about job opportunities for the youth, saying they should harness social media because “that’s where kids live.” Building a tech school and keeping people informed about local apprenticeships would also help those who are working to find a way out of homelessness as well as senior citizens.

On Tuesday, Hooper told county supervisors that in addition to working with Ashton, Del Norte County signed a services contract with ClearGov to use its ClearPlans for Civic software. He said he hopes this software will increase transparency both for the public as well as employees and other stakeholders.

Hooper said he hopes to present drafts of the strategic plan to the Board of Supervisors in April. He aims to get a final plan before the Board to adopt with the Del Norte County budget.


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