Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Brown Blasts NorCo's Failed Leadership
"For the past 16 years, the County has been a drifting ship without direction," charged Brown, in a slight aimed at former Executives John Stoffa and Glenn Reibman. "The challenges we face today are a direct result of the failure of leadership over the last eight years - and certainly the eight before that."
"I will not dignify a comment like that with a response," retorted John Stoffa, who supplied Brown with an office and County resources immediately after Brown was elected, to aid in his transition.
Brown claimed poor leadership has led to problems like serial structural deficits, including a $13 million deficit in 2013, coupled with an attitude that "budgets do not matter." He pledged "to restore fiscal sanity" to County government. "I have grabbed the steering wheel and have begun laying the groundwork to redirect the County away from the past and into a new future."
After proclaiming his transparency and willingness to work with Council, Brown disputed the claims of some Council members. According to one reporter, some say they were "blindsided" by Brown's proposal to hire a $715,200 business consultant. He said he made his intentions known two weeks ago, but apologized to any members who were unaware.
Asked how he would pay for this business consultant contract with Deana Zosky, which he agreed does include unspecified IT costs, Brown said he has already saved $100,000 in the Solicitor's office.
Though critical of the $13 million deficit, Brown said he was "unsure" whether he would have agreed to a tax hike. "I would have preferred that they control costs," he said, adding that he "bit my tongue" as Council approved several new positions. Not all have been filled. Brown is requiring department heads to meet with him and justify the added cost.
He cited the new hires as an example of a habit, presumably a bad habit.
New hires in the Stoffa administration were actually something of a rarity. First, he imposed a two-year hiring freeze on vacant positions, under which slots were filled only if both he and Council agreed they were critical. Second, he instituted a voluntary furlough program, an unpaid vacation exercised by about 20 County employees annually. Third, he refused to appoint a Director of Community and Economic Development, or replace Vic Mazziotti after he resigned as Director of Fiscal Affairs.
In an effort to control costs, Brown agrees with Lamont McClure's proposed performance audit of the $5.5 million Community Education Center program at the jail, which is designed to treat inmates and keep them from re-offending. "We get a sound bite," he said of claims that the program reduces recidivism. "We don't get the whole story."
Brown stated he is addressing the $5.5 million deficit at County nursing home Gracedale by conducting weekly meetings with Administrator Dee Freeman. "We're handcuffed in some ways," he noted, referring to "labor issues."
In addition to the proposed business consultant contract, Brown has already approved a public works consultant and is considering a communications consultant. But he denied plans to engage in government by consultant. He conceded that he is having trouble finding people willing to work at the salaries paid by local government.
Though Brown himself shut out the press until yesterday, he nevertheless criticized prior administrations for their lack of transparency. "We don't communicate well with our own employees," he observed, adding that "they do such a good job."
After stressing the importance of communication and transparency, media consultant Kim Plyler brought the conference to an end after about 20 minutes.
"There's time for one more question," she announced.
You can read Brown's remarks here.