Calaveras should view harsh report as call for change

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The report's findings couldn't have been much more damaging.

Employees in Calaveras County's Building Department lack accountability, are poorly trained and supervised, don't communicate and have been "unprofessional and confrontational" with front-counter customers, according to a consultant hired last fall.

In addition, Southern California-based JAS Pacific found that the Building Department lacks a fee schedule, that many employees are unfamiliar with codes and "do not perform the minimum of required tasks" and that a general "adverse work environment" exists.

The firm's 10-page report also found instances where staff members reviewed building plans filed by relatives or superiors and urged that county leaders "address the ethical conflict."

That was among sweeping JAS Pacific recommendations that include employee retraining, resolution of personnel issues, proper certification and better communication.

It may be a month or longer before the report is considered by the Board of Supervisors, but it is already being dismissed by some as biased, incomplete and for the most part groundless.

"I wish it had more facts, figures and justifications," said Mike Borean, president of the Calaveras County Builders Association. "It's like conclusions being made with no arguments."

"A slap in the face to all Building Department employees past and present," said Chris Williams, attorney for former Chief Building Official Ray Waller, who was fired amid the review.

But it would be a major mistake for Calaveras County's leaders to dismiss the JAS Pacific report and return to anything like the status quo.

When the county supervisors last year voted to combine building and planning into a new Community Development Department, it was in the interests of creating a more equitable and efficient operation in what has become one of California's fastest growing counties. And the board gave Stephanie Moreno, the department's new director, the latitude to do that.

Moreno chose JAS Pacific for the review, which the firm's Gardnerville, Nev., office handled. Although the just-released report's methodology has been questioned, it is hard to believe that a team of consultants from the far side of the Sierra would come to San Andreas with an ax to grind or a head to hunt.

That said, JAS Pacific should be ready to justify its conclusions and recommendations with facts. As refreshing as it might be to receive a consultant's report slimmer than an encyclopedia volume, this review's 10 pages leaves a little too much to the imagination.

Concerns, presumably, will be addressed in about a month, when supervisors will consider the JAS review, its critics and a staff report from Moreno.

A few of those critics will likely dismiss the review as a smokescreen and urge a return to the comfort of "how things have always been done."

But the board, instead, should follow Moreno's lead.

"I see it as a blueprint of things I need to work on," she said of the report, vowing "to work as a team to give more training to the staff and improve the department."

In a county growing by 1,000 residents a year and in which annual building permit applications have more than doubled in five years, these are eminently reasonable goals.

What's your view on this issue? Write to letters@uniondemocrat.com .

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Geoff White, Managing Editor Patty Fuller, City Editor Craig Cassidy and senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.

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