Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

New structure at Boulder County separates strategy and administration

 

January 29, 2020 | View PDF

Courtesy Photo

Michelle Krezek

From the perspective of the public, the implementation of recently announced changes to Boulder County's structure has been extremely quick. In November of 2019, a significant shift in administration and management of county departments was announced, and it has already been implemented, as of Jan. 14, 2020.

Internally, however, the conversation had been going on for a long time, as far back as the Fourmile Canyon Fire in 2010.

The new structure makes several significant shifts in how the county is run. The main goal of the restructuring is to separate the strategic planning and public-facing work of the county commissioners from the day-to-day operations and management of their office.

This has been implemented by several steps, including the creation of a new county administrator position, appointed by the county commissioners and reporting directly to them.

Jana Petersen, formerly the administrative services director since 2010, was named as the new county administrator. She emphasized the increasing complexity of Boulder County's organizational structure and the need to separate the political work of the commissioners from the administrative work of their office.

Petersen said the new structure allows the commissioners to "focus on 'what and why', turning over the 'how and the who', to the rest of county government."

According to Michelle Krezek, the newly appointed Chief of Staff to the Boulder County Commissioners, "This isn't really a new concept. We have been having conversations starting after the Fourmile Fire about how the county can better respond to disasters."

Krezek said, "If you look at all the counties in Colorado, there are very few that don't have some kind of administrator or manager, so we were sort of an oddity." After the Fourmile Fire, and again after the September 2013 floods in Boulder County, county employees and administrators noticed that certain processes flowed a lot more smoothly in disaster response, where separate departments worked together in the same location.

Dale Case, the newly appointed Director of Community Planning and Permitting (formerly the director of the land use department) said, "It goes back to a lot of the experience we had at the Fourmile Fire and the flood [in 2013], how we organized and had different people from different disciplines at the same place."

Case's new County Planning and Permitting Department takes similar services that were previously housed in two separate departments, Land Use and Transportation, and put them under one roof. The remaining services that were previously under Transportation are now in another new department, Public Works.

The goal of this part of the restructure is to ensure that county residents are "not ping-ponging people back and forth between different departments and different locations," said Case. The change will create "a better one-stop-shop where people will be able to get answers and be able to identify things a lot quicker, and save people trips."

Case added that the new structure "saves a lot of time and energy for everybody."

An additional benefit that Case has already seen in his newly consolidated department is that the reorganization of staff positions and desks has created "lots of tremendous ideas and energy" among staff.

At the 2020 Annual Reorganization Meeting held by the county commissioners on Jan. 14, Commissioner Elise Jones admitted the process appeared extra speedy from the outside, saying, "We should have had a more inclusive conversation. We should have had better communication about this and we are committed to doing better." County residents can view the meeting on the "Boulder County BOCC" YouTube channel any time.

Courtesy Photo

Dale Case

The drive to make the administrative changes was sped up by "a relatively unprecedented turnover of commissioners next January," said Jones, "because we wanted to establish, test, and fine tune the structure this year," before the county faces that turnover in 2021. Two of the current commissioners, Elise Jones and Deb Gardner, are term-limited, with current commissioner Matt Jones the lone holdover next year.

One final significant change in the structure involved the creation of a new Office of Sustainability, Climate Action, and Resilience, affectionately dubbed "OSCAR."

"Really, the idea was to bring together sustainability, kind of on steroids," according to Chief of Staff Krezek. "Climate is such a big issue, it impacts a lot of the work we do across the county," and the idea was to broaden and support that work in one place.

Petersen, the new county administrator, stressed that while the "changes are going to take time, thought, and effort," it will continue to be "business as usual" at the county for most residents.

 

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