Friday, February 22, 2013

Bonanza Column 273 - Don't let NLTFPD become average

Recently I had occasion to read an evaluation of the emergency medical services provided throughout Washoe County. The evaluation was done by the TriData Division of the System Planning Corporation under contract to Washoe County. TriData’s report included several findings and recommendations regarding actions that could be taken by the affected agencies including the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District.
The NLTFPD is the exclusive provider of emergency medical services for Incline Village and Crystal Bay. The Fire District has provided these services to our communities here at the Lake with great success for several years, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who lives or visits here who has less than the highest regard for the NLTFPD. The problem is that, as with so many things, the report fails to distinguish between the part of Washoe County that is inside the Tahoe Basin from the rest of the County.
EMS programs in the Truckee Meadows, including both Fire and REMSA in the Reno/Sparks area, come in for substantial criticism in the report, and TriData’s recommendations come under the heading of “Washoe County Wide” changes to emergency medical services that are needed.
The concern is that if County-Wide changes are made with a broad brush, NLTFPD’s ability to deliver the excellent service we have come to expect could be impacted.
The report recommends that “The future of EMS in Washoe County should include a countywide EMS system with responsibility for total system oversight…A countywide EMS system could be overseen by the Washoe [District Board of Health] or a Washoe County public safety agency. An EMS lead agency should include an EMS Manager and staff and an EMS Medical Director. We include several possible EMS organization models and specify EMS staff requirements.”
I have no argument with the notion that such oversight could result in improved service for Reno, Sparks, and most of the County, but I have every expectation that it would be disastrous for services here at the Lake. When you put an excellent service provider under management that is (a) distant and (b) broad in scope, you get what in statistics is called “regression toward the mean.” In other words, if NLTFPD is an A and the rest of the County is a C, everyone will get to be a B. Good for them, bad for us.
NFLTPD must obviously cooperate with Washoe County to ensure that any improvements to county-wide emergency medical services are successful. Any changes of ordinances, laws, protocols or certifications that may affect the operations of the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District’s existing ability to provide the high level of emergency medical services currently provided should require approval from the Board of Fire Directors of the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, and may require approval of the voters of the District as well.
Rather than wait until we are fighting a defensive action, IV/CB residents should let the County know that we will not accept any solution, county-wide or otherwise, that detracts from the level of services we have and that our taxes pay for. The TriData report went to John Slaughter, Director of Management Services and Kurt Latipow, Fire Services Coordinator, in the Washoe County Manager's Office, and those would be two good people to communicate with, along with County Manager Katy Simon, the District Board of Health, the NLTFPD Board, and the IVGID Board of Trustees who should be in the forefront of this effort.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bonanza Column 272 - Time to Stop this Ridiculous Lawsuit

So once again we have the interests and opinions of a vocal few blocking the implementation of hard science and the will of the majority.
I’m referring of course to the ridiculous lawsuit by the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore attempting to block implementation of the TRPA Regional Plan Update (RPU) and the scurrilous, radical guest column in last week’s Bonanza by their hangers-on.
As a reminder, while I did work for TRPA I no longer have any administrative or management accountability there, though I am doing some training for the staff This column is intended to represent my views and my views alone, and not those of the Agency or any of its staff or Governing Board.
Let’s review the bidding: The RPU is the first significant update to environmental protection standards at Lake Tahoe since 1987. The update was years in the making, involved countless hours of scientific and public input, and fostered an unprecedented level of bi-state collaboration to come out with a plan that incorporates much of what the Sierra Club itself has advocated over the years. It institutes and retains growth control limits and restrictions that are among the strongest in the US.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe, historically an advocate for the most stringent environmental regulation and no friend of TRPA responded to the lawsuit this way:
This is the wrong move for Lake Tahoe....While the plan is not perfect, it is a product of community collaboration and compromise, and is designed to be adaptive...litigation will likely result in the dissolution of this compact and no compact means no regional environmental standards for Lake Tahoe. Preserving the compact and implementing the RPU will provide the greatest long-term benefit to the lake and its communities.
Similar responses came from the Nevada Conservation League and in a joint statement from California Secretary of Natural Resources, John Laird and Nevada Director of Conservation and Natural Resources, Leo Drozdoff. Laird and Drozdoff were the principal architects of the bi-state collaboration.
Despite all this, the Sierra Club and its partners apparently consider their opinion of what is good for Lake Tahoe superior to the collective conclusions of environmental scientists, the agencies of California and Nevada, the TRPA, the majority of public input and almost everyone else. I guess it must be nice to have that smug sense of superiority that is impervious to rational consideration – kind of like Wayne La Pierre and the NRA.
One of the basest fabrications on the part of these self-appointed guardians of what’s good for the rest of us is that somehow TRPA (and presumably the scientists, public, and state agencies) are “in the pocket of developers.” I worked at TRPA as a contract executive for a year, and if any largesse was being passed out by some evil cabal of developers I never saw any evidence of it and, worse yet, they missed me! If you’re out there, evil cabal, I’m waiting for my check. But I won’t hold my breath because no one had produced one shred of evidence to support that canard.
If you have the stomach to plow through the 33 pages of the legal complaint, you will see that it is poorly formulated and based on the thinnest foundation imaginable. The Federal Court should summarily dismiss it and can do so on any number of grounds.
One last thing: isn’t it time that these self-appointed “guardians of the lake” come clean about their real agendas and conflicts of interest? What about the realtor who rails against development but makes her living selling Mc Mansions on the lake shore to millionaires? What about the vocal critic of any human inroads into the environment who owns property in a sensitive stream environment zone? Or the loud critic of TRPA who has been cited for numerous serious environmental violations and refuses to correct them?
It’s time to give up the knee-jerk negative response to government in general and TRPA in particular and stop listening to these hypocrites. The RPU may not be a perfect plan, but it is a good one with enough checks and adaptability built in that if offers the best chance for a balance between humans and nature in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Bonanza Column 271 - Is the Fix In at IVGID?

I was in St. Louis all last week on business and so couldn’t attend the IVGID Board meeting that was on Wednesday, so I made a point of talking with some of the 60 or so people who did make it. I was surprised at the number of times that words like “disarray,” “chaotic,” and “silly” came up in accounts of the meeting.
Then I read the recap of the meeting in last week’s Bonanza, and I started to understand.
In what universe does filling the job of General Manager with an amateur, locally focused search make sense? IVGID has a budget of over $35 million and over 550 full and part time positions on its staff (both according to the 2012 – 2013 Budget Book). These 550 people range from seasonal life guards and ski instructors to highly skilled craftspeople, engineers, and professionals. Despite unfounded allegations to the contrary, the IVGID staff are top notch at what they do – that’s why we’ve had great people recruited away by Reno, Truckee, Washoe County, and others. It takes a top General Manager to lead top people. A weak leader will see the best people leave and the worst rise to new levels of mediocrity. We have been fortunate to have had such an General Manager for 11 years, and unfortunate in his decision to retire.
The General Manager manages the entire operation under policy set by the Board. The skill set of a GM or CEO from one industry to another is not interchangeable. It takes a very different CEO to lead a retail chain than it does to lead a worldwide non-profit, and than it does to lead a hotel chain, a financial institution, or a high-tech firm. Most times when a CEO was hired under the misguided notion that a good executive can lead anything, the results have not been good – think of Carly Fiorina, and John Sculley to cite two well-known examples.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of firms in a variety of industries that went through CEO successions. In almost every case, internal candidates were considered, and in absolutely every case an expert search firm was employed from the writing of the job description and qualifications through hiring. There is a profession called Public Administration. Its "fundamental goal... is to advance management and policies so that government can function." (Handbook of Public Administration) Colleges and Universities offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in Public Administration. Why? Because it is a professional discipline, and any professional discipline starts with study and is advanced through experience. Translating policy into execution and services for a municipality of 9,000 residents with a budget and staff like ours is not a job for even a very talented amateur, and we can’t afford to have someone learn on the job.
This is not a comment on the three people who were mentioned in the Bonanza story – I know and have worked with Claudia Andersen, Mike Brown, and Lynn Gillette and hold them in the highest esteem, and knowing the Hyatt organization’s standards, I have no doubt that Fred Findlen is very good at what he does. There are two problems with all these good folks: first, they have jobs to which they are dedicated, and second, they are not trained or experienced in public administration.
There is a rumor going around that the fix is in on the whole GM search, that the job description will be tailored toward a particular individual and the “search” will be a sham. I pray this is not true – if it turns out to be true, we are headed for a level of cronyism and incompetence in the governance of IVGID that has not been seen in my 17 years here and probably not ever. The job description will be the Board’s first opportunity to dispel this rumor – if it calls for a professional, experienced public administrator, then the rumor is clearly not true; if it is vague in regard to the parameters of the job, does not require more than generic credentials and experience, then the Board will have to answer some tough questions. Now this Wednesday’s Board meeting has been cancelled because “There are no matters requiring action by the board,” even though it was clearly stated at the last meeting that the job description would be on the agenda. So we will have to wait at least another two weeks to find out which way the wind is blowing on this one.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Bonanza Column 270 - Public Private Partnerships

The recent discussion over the eLearning Lab’s proposal to partner with the library brought to light a situation that, regardless of the merits of that particular issue, ought to be of concern to all of us.
Over the past decade or so, so-called “public-private partnerships” (PPPs) have been of increasing importance all over the world in extending the ability of governments to provide services in difficult economics. According to the U. S. State Department, “Such partnerships have leveraged the creativity, innovation, and core business resources of private partners for greater impact on global issues. To date, the Department has worked with over 1,100 partners and mobilized more than $650 million in public and private resources to support key foreign policy objectives including climate change mitigation, women’s empowerment, economic growth, and human rights.” The State Department’s participation in PPPs represents only a small portion of PPPs worldwide.
In most countries these PPP arrangements have been aimed at overcoming broad public sector constraints in relation to either a lack of public capital; and/or a lack of public sector capacity, resources and specialized expertise to develop, manage, and operate infrastructure assets. Public Private Partnerships are now commonly used to accelerate economic growth, development and infrastructure delivery and to achieve quality service delivery and good governance.
The need for PPPs in many countries has been accelerated by the public sector‘s recognition of the vital role of modern infrastructure in economic growth, and PPPs are now accepted as an important avenue for funding major public sector infrastructure projects. PPPs are joint ventures in which business and government co-operate, each applying its strengths to develop a project more quickly and more efficiently than government could accomplish on its own. The private sector may be responsible for the designing, financing, constructing, owning and/or operating the entire project. The private sector may want to be assured that the public-private partnership structure is designed to provide competitive rates of return commensurate with a financial rate of return that they could earn on alternative projects of comparable risk.
In the case of the eLearning CafĂ©/Washoe County Libraries discussion, the Library Board’s counsel delivered an opinion that the PPP could not happen because of a peculiarity of Nevada Law. Under the Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) anything of this sort that is not explicitly enabled or permitted in the Statutes is considered to be prohibited. Not surprisingly, PPPs are not included in the NRS, which was originally formulated in 1861.
The provision that effectively prohibits anything not explicitly permitted is particularly problematic in a state where the Legislature only sits every two years and then only for a few months.
PPPs are proving to be an especially effective vehicle in the environmental area as recognition increases that a focus on the environment in isolation from the larger picture is in most cases ineffective. Current thinking in the mainstream of the environmental movement is that there is a “triple bottom line” that requires attention to environmental, economic, and social factors, and this lends increasing importance to looking beyond government for solutions. The TRPA Regional Plan Update depends on such PPPs that are represented in part by developments such as Homewood, Boulder Bay, and Edgewood on a large scale, and also partnerships such as that between TRPA and the Tahoe Resource Conservation District for boat inspections in service of keeping aquatic invasive species under control.
The 2013 Regular Session of the Nevada Legislature begins on Monday, February 4, and while it is too late to hope for new legislation to enable PPPs, it is possible to attach such a measure to existing legislation being introduced. I’ve written to Senator Ben Kieckhefer and Assemblyman Randy Kirner asking them to look into this situation, and thus far have received no response. If enough people raise this issue with them, it’s possible we can get something done in this legislative session.