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County considering shaking up organization
September 04, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

John Maltbie

Consider it business not as usual.

After decades of the status quo, County Manager John Maltbie says it is time San Mateo County take a hard look at how the organization is structured and operates to keep up with changing times.

San Mateo County "then” was an 8 to 5 operation, with demographics more alike than not, a narrow provision of service and high tech defined by correcting typewriters. The county "now” is a mix of economics and ethnicities, a wide array of services and technology that changes nearly as soon as it begins.

"Life has changed both inside and outside our organization,” Maltbie said.

If the county wants to keep up, it needs to consider changing its organizational structure and way it works, Maltbie told the Board of Supervisors.

The county needs to attract and retain diverse talent and create an organizational culture of continuous learning, Maltbie said, because gone are the days when workers stayed for the span of their career or weren’t interested in cross-training or exploring new areas. The county’s cost and revenue models are obsolete, the expectation of the role and value of government have changed and the county’s relationship with the state is "littered with potholes of fiscal instability and eroded voter control and confidence,” he said.

Maltbie is forming a task force to gather information on workforce trends, how services are delivered and understand current officials’ thoughts and, in particular, frustrations with how it operates.

"We need to rethink what we do, why we do it and how we do it,” Maltbie said.

Supervisor Don Horsley said he is frustrated with the slow regulatory environment that is difficult to navigate.

"We are not very nimble in dealing with any of that,” he said.

As an example, Horsley cited the more than a year and a half he’s spent trying to get Redwood City to absorb a small water district in his supervisorial district.

Later in the meeting, the Board of Supervisors opted to loosen its arrangement with Pleion Lineal which designates the company as the county’s furnishings provider — a move Board President Adrienne Tissier said was indicative of Maltbie’s focus.

"This is the perfect example of how we tie our hands,” Tissier said.

The county may continue to use Pleion but removing it as the standard allows more — and sometimes less costly — options, said Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen.

Pleion was chosen in the 1990s because it complied with the county’s ergonomic standards but, in the dozen years since, computers and ergonomic tools changed. Flat screens don’t require bulky desks or corner work stations, for example, and new work stations can be modified to fit a worker. The county saves money by not needing to reconfigure the work space every time a new employee needs it.

The task force, and the board, should look at similar policies that are no longer applicable as a way to streamline government, she said.

The task force will include some supervisors but Maltbie also asked them to consider members of the public. Tissier further suggested those citizens may "have some fresh eyes.”

The youth perspective is also desired since, as Tissier put it, "youngsters are moving at lightning speed and are already 100 steps ahead of us.”

Maltbie also wants the task force brainstorming to be more than lip service.

Once it pins down some concrete ideas, Maltbie will bring them back to the board for recommendations on next steps. He anticipates returning before Christmas.

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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