On Tuesday, the Mono County Board of Supervisors was given the opportunity to start the process of hiring a new Human Resources Director but chose to postpone the move to next year when the new Board is seated.
In an effort to appease his critics, Mono County CAO Jim Arkens unveiled a plan at Tuesday’s Supervisors meeting that would restructure his office and integrate a Human Resources Director back into the employee mix.
Arkens plan was spurred by two things: one, his Executive Assistant Pam MacBride will be retiring at the end of the year, leaving a void in the office of the CAO, and two, there have been complaints in County circles regarding Arkens’ consolidation of power. Currently he serves as CAO, HR Director, and Public Works Director, a medley of work that has drawn criticism, especially in relation to the CAO/HR Director combo. Arkens also oversaw the Assessors Office between the resignation of Jody Henning and the hiring of Aimee Brewster, who was hired as the Assistant Assessor but will serve as the Interim Assessor until the position is filled.
Arkens’ plan, as presented to the Board, would delegate MacBride’s duties to the remaining two employees in the CAO’s office rather than hire someone to fill her shoes. The salary MacBride was being paid would be put toward the salary of a new HR Director. To make this position’s salary whole, another $65,000 would be needed, which the County would have to pull from the General Fund.
The Board, however, expressed mixed feelings on Arkens’ proposal.
“The CAO/HR combination is a perfect fit for you,” Supervisor Byng Hunt said to Arkens, who started at the County as the HR Director and has experience in this field. “It’s good to have it under the same hat.”
Supervisor Hap Hazard threw out the idea of eliminating the HR Director position completely while Supervisor Larry Johnston favored delaying the change.
“The timing of this is not good,” said Johnston. “It’s right before we seat a new board, so I think this needs to be postponed. We need to look at the County structure more broadly than just your office.”
Johnston added his belief that the public’s concern over Arkens’ consolidation of roles was “generated from recent appeals [Dick Luman and Brett McCurry], and not what’s really happening.”
On the flipside, Supervisor Vikki Bauer thought the timing of the discussion would have been better received.
“A lot of people are saying it’s bad to not have a HR Director,” Bauer said. “It wouldn’t be as big of an impact now [to hire one] since someone is leaving.”
Arkens echoed her thoughts. “I thought the Board wanted a HR Director and this was my way to fill that,” he explained. “I can continue doing HR, I love it. I’m just bringing it up now because of the public’s concern and Pam’s retirement.”
According to the CAO job description at diplomaguide.com, “Depending on the type and size of the organization, the CAO may hold different duties and may also be referred to as the senior or executive vice president. The overall operation of organizations, their employees and services often falls on the shoulders of the CAO. They must set long-term goals, appoint and direct department heads, oversee budgets and manage resources. They may head divisions such as human resources, finance and operations. CAOs also meet with board members to focus the organization’s activities and promote economic development in their communities. Because of the wide range of responsibilities that these officers have, they often rely on senior-level staff members to assist them.”
Arkens pointed out that whatever the Board decided, he would need someone to help him once McBride retired, whether by shifting her duties to existing staff, or finding someone to fill her shoes.
“She may wear tiny shoes, but she has big feet,” Arkens said.
“I think we should first find someone to replace Pam and then figure out the HR part,” said Supervisor Tim Hansen. “Maybe we should farm some of the HR stuff out.”
Arkens explained that everyone in his office does some HR work. Plus, he farms some things out to County Counsel and Risk Management Director Rita Sherman takes care of the majority of workers compensation and risk management (other HR responsibilities).
He did say that it would be good to have someone else trained in the area of workers comp and risk management and Supervisor Hunt agreed.
“If Jim were to leave and take his HR hat with him, we’d be in dire straits to fill that position,” he said.
Ultimately, Hazard made a motion to hire a temp to fill in for MacBride until the new Board can decide how it would like to proceed next year. The motion was approved 4-1. Hansen voted no because he didn’t like the “temp” portion of the motion.
“We should find a [permanent] person for the job to train under Pam before she leaves,” he said.