Our View: One last goodbye to Nevada County CEO Rick Haffey
August 24, 2018
It's uncommon for CEO Rick Haffey to speak during a meeting of the Board of Supervisors.
He usually sits quietly at the dais as the elected leaders conduct their business, even if that business gets unruly. The conversation must veer into dangerous territory before you'll hear Haffey offering a suggestion, a different direction to take.
It's a style of leadership that Haffey's taken throughout his career in Nevada County. Quiet, at times seemingly shy, Haffey has steered this county through a roaring housing market that turned into the Great Recession and back again.
Some folks might not even know his name or what the chief executive officer of the county does. That's not necessarily a bad thing. With government, you often give little thought to its operations — until something goes wrong.
In short, the CEO manages all county offices under its jurisdiction. Elected officials like the treasurer-tax collector and sheriff run their own shows, but the CEO handles the rest. Department heads report to the CEO, who ensures the business of the county gets done.
Supervisors create policy. County staff implements it, and most every one of them reports to someone who reports to the CEO.
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It's near impossible to serve in government and have everyone like you. Ask around. You can find someone who has harsh words for Haffey.
You'll be much harder pressed to find a Nevada County CEO who has his staying power.
This county used to go through its CEOs like tissue paper. Then Haffey, at the time the assistant CEO, stepped into the top spot in January 2003 and stayed to the current day.
Both Haffey and his successor — current Assistant CEO Alison Lehman — built careers in Nevada County. You could argue that's a weakness, that promising leaders advance to larger communities where they make more money and have more power.
We'd argue that's not a weakness of the person, but of our county. We have trouble competing with Placer and Sacramento county salaries. We are a small, rural community and that's not for everyone.
Those perceived weaknesses for some are strengths to others. We want to keep professionals who love our community and the unique amenities it offers. We want that stability in government, and both Haffey and Lehman have provided it.
Lehman has a difficult job ahead of her. She'll have the corner office, as well as headaches that come with it.
Haffey in an interview with The Union noted that supervisors regularly bend his ear, and at times clash in their opinions and desires.
It's difficult to juggle five bosses simultaneously. Lehman, a veteran of Nevada County, already knows this.
And that's one of many reasons why we believe we'll be in good hands under her stewardship.
Haffey, who recommended Lehman as his successor, called her talented and said she'll be more successful than he is.
Time will tell if that's the case. We can be assured that their leadership styles will differ. They're different people, with different life experiences.
And, quite possibly, a different frequency of speaking at meetings when supervisors need a little conversational push.
Our View is the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.