Thursday, December 3, 2020

Should Utah County Continue to Emulate Salt Lake County with Respect to Support Staff?

County Commmissioner Compensation

Following the election this year I continued to research county governments because I had some outstanding questions. I found only two counties in Utah (Salt Lake and Utah) where County Commissioners or County Council members have their own personal assistants. Both counties use the same title for these employees – senior policy advisor.

The remaining twenty-seven counties all use a shared support staff model. 16 of the counties have an office of the commission staffed with either county administrator plus assistant(s) or share support staff with other county agencies.

Shared staff models allow institutional knowledge to be retained rather than leave with commission members. Additionally, shared staff are viewed as neutral rather than being simply an extension of an individual commissioner. They can thus serve the commission as a whole and interface with other county departments or agencies without being perceived as representing a single commissioner.

Additionally, because a shared staff model is more efficient it may be possible to replace three senior policy advisors with a two member office of the commission. Senior policy advisors in Utah County make an average of $93.8K per year (salary plus benefits). You could bring an experienced individual to function as a county administrator with an assistant administrator and save the county some money each year. I am assuming the senior resource would require a higher salary than policy advisors.

I shared this information with county commissioners during a work session along with my recommendations for restructuring support staff based on my experience as a city council member and mayor. Below is a summary of what I presented to the commission.

Existing Forms of Support Infrastructure for Utah Counties

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SENIOR POLICY ADVISORS (personal assistants)
Salt Lake & Utah County

Duties

  • As directed by commissioner
  • Limited assignments for entire commission

Pros

  • Individual legislator has dedicated resource to focus on his or her agenda.

Cons

  • Senior policy advisors are limited by their direct tie a single commissioner. There is always the possibility when working with other county officials that the policy advisor represents the will of his or her commissioner rather than the commission as a whole.
  • Institutional knowledge is lost when elected official leaves.
  • Can enhance division among commissioners
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EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT(s)
21 counties

Duties

  • Standard administrative functions for entire commission (i.e.agendas, scheduling appointments, …)
  • Limited delegation of authority from the whole commission
  • Information gathering and recommendations for the commission (e.g. budget, county processes and potential improvements).
  • Public information management (e.g. social media accounts).
  • Bringing new commissioners up to speed how the county works.

Pros

  • Institutional knowledge can be built and maintained.
  • Commission can delegate administrative tasks such as approval of budgeted expenses under a specified dollar amount.
  • Office members represent the entire commission is able to be viewed as a independent/neutral resource.
  • Ability to more effectively utilize staff.
  • Potential annual savings of $50-60K

Cons

  • None that I can find.

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COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR
Cache, San Juan, Sevier, Summit, Wasatch, & Washington

Duties

  • Key functional areas such economic development or public outreach may be delegated as directed by commission. Note, the county administrator would need to be a more senior individual with a consequently higher pay scale than the current policy advisors.
  • The remaining duties of the office is the same as above.

Pros

  • Same as above with the following exceptions.
  • Net annual cost change $0 assuming part of the administrators salary could be covered by the tourism tax and other existing funding sources.
  • Commission can delegate more significant administrative duties than with the executive secretary model.

Cons

  • Again, none that I can find.

Given that we are losing a commissioner and senior policy advisor in January I strongly recommend that the commission consider changing to a more effective, cost efficient and less divisive form of support before a new commissioner starts and brings with him a new senior policy advisor. Choosing between the two options in my view is entirely dependent on how much and what type of work the commission would like to delegate. Either form in my view is significantly better than the status quo.

If you want to let the commissioners know that you support a change here are there emails:

Links

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