Roughly an hour after the newly sworn-in Gila County supervisors garnished new Chairman Shirley Dawson with her gavel, she proposed sweeping changes to county organization, including the introduction of a legislative manager and public information officer.
Although supervisors instituted a hiring and wage freeze to save money when they passed the budget, Dawson said the county could cull existing employees for the spots, while eliminating other positions in favor of new ones.
The proposal eliminates the deputy county manager position, for example, in favor of a financial manager position. The county manager spot would become operations manager — the position charged with managing the county’s day-to-day operations and long-range strategic planning.
“It’s not creating new positions. It’s reorganizing current positions,” Dawson said. Supervisors will again consider the proposal on Tuesday.
Supervisor Tommie Martin said the proposal caught her off guard. “I knew there was something in the wind,” she said. “This is brand-new to me.”
Dawson said current County Manager Steve Besich and Deputy County Manager John Nelson are not in danger of losing their jobs.
“I think that they both have done excellent jobs in difficult times, and I have no plans of terminating (them) at this time,” she said.
Funding for positions such as the legislative manager could come from eliminating outsourcing contracts and instead recruit ing in-house employees, Dawson said.
The county currently spends $89,000 on a state lobbyist and has a $169,000 per year contract with a federal lobbyist.
“I feel like they’ve had little contact and made no reports to the board,” Dawson said about the federal lobbyist.
Through hiring a county legislative liaison, the county could reduce the federal contract by $40,000 and eliminate the state contract, according to Dawson’s proposal.
The plan to reduce spending on lobbying at the state and county level comes as the federal government gears up for a record stimulus package focused on public works projects and a state budget shortfall that has already prompted the legislature to take money from local governments.
Supervisors said the state’s budget fiasco and the federal government’s proposed spending bonanza makes it critical for the county to increase its lobbying presence at both levels.
“I believe strongly that we need to be better organized,” Dawson said.
She said in-county oversight could have prevented this year’s delayed mailing of tax notices, for instance. The county uses the same system as five other counties, and one person from Navajo County oversaw the whole process, officials previously said.
Freshly sworn-in Supervisor Mike Pastor endorsed creating a public information officer spot. He campaigned on principles of transparency, he said, adding that a person devoted to disbursing information would help achieve that goal.
Dawson said she constantly receives letters from state and federal agencies like the Forest Service, which seek input on proposed projects, and an information specialist could monitor those proposals and recommend action.
County Manager Steven Besich warned against rushing into making the changes and said legal issues could arise because state statute clearly dictates the duties of county employees. However, “Staff will do whatever the board directs them to,” he said.