Goodbye to Gaebler, but not to good government
Nevada County Executive Officer Ted Gaebler, in the groundbreaking book “Reinventing Government” that he wrote with David Osborne in 1985, said, “Neither traditional liberalism nor traditional conservatism has much relevance to the problems our governments face today.” It was his belief that the problem was not the people who work in government, but the systems in which they work.
He was right. But after his announcement this week that he would be leaving, Gaebler would have to admit that – at least in Nevada County – the clash of liberal vs. conservative definitely has an impact on whether county executives can be allowed to function.
We will miss Ted Gaebler. Nevada County was lucky to have him, even for only three years. In that time, he has put his vision of entrepreneurial government into effect here, to the great benefit of us all. We hope those on his team who remain – including his assistant, Rick Haffey – carry on his work.
That may not be easy.
Gaebler, who was in private business for years before being lured back into public service by a board controlled by liberal supervisors, saw the writing on the wall when two of those members – Elizabeth Martin and Bruce Conklin – were defeated by conservative opponents Robin Sutherland and Drew Bedwell. He knew his future was in the hands of the current board’s lone conservative member, District 2 supervisor Sue Horne from Lake of the Pines. Horne has made it clear that she wants a change, and Gaebler announced his plans to leave the day after Conklin failed in a recount to overturn Bedwell’s 19-vote victory.
Back in January 2000, when Gaebler arrived, The Union said it had doubts that even a highly skilled administrator could change the deeply troubled culture of county government here. The management team was defecting in droves, mainly because of micromanagement by supervisors who in some cases acted as if they were front-line department managers.
Gaebler has been under almost constant attack since his arrival – over an employee retreat that was a tradition long before he arrived; over his salary; over his annual bonus. In the last election campaign that was hypercharged by the NH 2020 planning controversy, every comma and paragraph of his contract was analyzed and vilified by those opposed to the incumbent candidates.
Never mind that his $119,000 salary, even after three years of raises, is still less than the $124,700 average for California county administrators. Never mind that his incentive bonus – approved unanimously by the board – is tied to performance goals, just like the innovative performance-based system he has established for his entire team. We look at results, and we like what we see: A competently staffed, customer-service oriented county government, with an $8 million surplus during a down economy, and with services – such as the county’s new web site – that have gone a long way to meet citizens’ needs.
That’s why we worry about a throwback to the bad old days. Whatever the politicking and deal-trading that may be going on behind the scenes at the Rood Center, we hope the new board recognizes that their job is to sort through the competing demands of their constituents and to establish policy direction for the county government. Then let the paid staff carry out its responsibility, which is to implement that policy.
Just before Gaebler’s announcement Thursday, we had a visit from State Assemblyman Rick Keene, who warned that the huge state budget deficit that is anticipated in the coming years will have a severe impact on counties like ours. The last thing we need now is infighting over personnel when all hands need to be on deck to deal with a funding crisis.
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