Gilpin County Corner, April 17, 2014

Roger Baker, Gilpin County

Now that the Republican and Democratic parties have concluded their County assemblies, we have a pretty good idea of who will be running for the elected offices in Gilpin County.

Things can change, of course—candidates could petition to get on the ballot for the June 24 primary election as late as this week—but by the time you read this the ballot should be set.

The way most County elections are set up, during this general election cycle, all the County positions EXCEPT the District 1 and District 3 Commissioner seats are up for election; that means the District 2 Commissioner, plus all the other elected offices—Sheriff, Assessor, Clerk & Recorder, Treasurer, Coroner and Surveyor. Not all of these races will be contested, of course; incumbents will probably run opposed in some of them. And in fact, there were a number of years where we didn’t have a County Surveyor at all!

Still, that means that every four years there’s the possibility of a widespread change of County offices, and from an administrative point of view, that’s something we need to be ready for.

But at least for those offices the choice is left to the voters; for all the other county positions (and counting part-time and temporary employees, of which there are a large number), the hiring of employees is left largely to the elected officials and department directors, subject to the policies and procedures established by the Board of County Commissioners.

In some cases, there are professional standards for such positions established by various agencies, or in statute by the state legislature. Most of these requirements must be met by job applicants; in other cases, there is a certain time period to obtain a necessary certification, or on-the-job training may be required. Similar standards apply to some of the elected officials; those standards are usually in statute, though, so the County has little to say about them.

Whether County employees are elected or appointed, however, there’s always a delicate balancing act involving efficient utilization of our personnel—always the County’s most valuable resources—and County policies trying to achieve fairness and equitable treatment.

Quite frequently, in fact, an employee will be hired into a position, but soon demonstrates skills in a specialized area that could potentially make him or her much more valuable to the organization. Handling something like that is tricky. In a small organization like Gilpin County, there often isn’t much room for advancement; modifying positions to accommodate the skills of a particular employee is fraught with dangers.

Not least of the dangers, of course, is favoritism and its most obvious manifestation, nepotism. Small county and municipal governments have been criticized for years (often rightly) when a department director hires (or promotes) a relative. But when that employee is a friend, the hiring may be more problematic.

And in a small organization like Gilpin County, supervisors and employees often become friends; when employees receive a glowing evaluation, we always need to make sure it’s for their job performance, not their friendship with the evaluator.

But at the same time, we really want to give our employees the opportunity to grow, develop, and use all their skills for the good of the County; but what if those skills aren’t exactly why they were hired in the first place, nor a part of their current job description? How do we do what’s right and fair to everyone, while still trying to utilize those employees to the greatest capacity possible?

Nobody said this was going to be easy…