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Letter Criticizes County Managers Seminar at Resort

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At a time when the county budget is so tight that scores of county workers may lose their jobs, the government is planning to spend $5,000 for a three-day management seminar at a resort near Palm Springs.

The Orange County Management Forum, intended to teach county managers “a systematic process by which strategic plans can be turned into effective action,” is scheduled for Sept. 25-27 in Palm Desert. County Administrative Officer Ernie Schneider has urged all top county managers to attend.

County managers are expected to pay their own way, and about 150 plan to attend. The county’s contribution is to cover speakers’ fees.

News of the planned conference reached the Board of Supervisors by anonymous letter last week, and it prompted some to express concern Monday. Three of the five supervisors said in interviews that they would have reservations about holding the conference during such lean budget times.

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“We’re cutting back,” said Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder. “I think right now that there are some luxuries that we can’t afford.”

Other officials, however, defended the event and the county’s role in sponsoring it. Schneider and Board Chairman Gaddi H. Vasquez both vigorously backed the conference.

“This is a once-a-year thing that we do,” Schneider said. “We try to give our people an opportunity to be up to date and informed.”

Added Vasquez: “This is not a recreational getaway. This is a working series of sessions. . . . In the bad times, it is even more imperative for the managers to attend this particular conference because we’re having to retool the way the county does business.”

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In the letter, the anonymous county employee complained to the Board of Supervisors that the timing of the conference was inappropriate.

“How can these managers go to the desert in good conscience while at the same time they are taking away the livelihood of some of their workers?” the letter writer asked. The letter writer also protested certain benefits received by top county officials, including their car allowances.

“I normally try to take an anonymous letter and put it on the other side of the desk and not pay much attention to it,” Supervisor Don R. Roth said. “On the other side of the coin, though, I am troubled somewhat when I hear that we are spending money on speakers’ fees for this.”

Supervisor Thomas F. Riley said that he was relieved to discover that county workers were expected to pay for their own room and board but that he remained concerned about the county’s contribution to the conference during such hard times.

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“One of my first thoughts was: ‘Should we go forward with this (conference) under the circumstances?’ ” Riley said. He added that rather than suggest that the conference be canceled, he intends to ask Schneider for a briefing on the event.

Supervisor Roger R. Stanton could not be reached for comment.

According to Management News and Views, the county newsletter for managers, the conference will open with a keynote speaker Wednesday night and feature two days of working sessions, including talks by a pair of management consultants. The Thursday session will last from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the Friday session will conclude by noon.

Between sessions and afterward, managers are free to take advantage of the Erawan Garden Resort’s amenities: Heated pools, saunas, croquet and shuffleboard are available at the hotel, and the Indian Wells Golf Resort is just across the way, the county bulletin notes.

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To attend, managers must pay $155 to share a double occupancy room or $230 for a single. Employees who want to hear the speakers but not stay overnight are asked to pay $90.


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