Brown May Downsize Commissions

NOV. 28, 2010

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown has a reputation for being frugal. Throughout his recent campaign, he referenced his unabashed personal frugality and said that if elected, it would translate to the governor’s office.

Already, there are reports that Brown will not be making nearly the number of appointments that his predecessor Governor Schwarzenegger made. Critics have said, where one agency director or secretary would have sufficed, Schwarzenegger appointed many deputy directors and undersecretaries, whose responsibilities and duties were unclear.

Whether the appointments are for agency secretaries, undersecretaries, deputy secretaries or for boards and commissions, the people appointed to these positions are expected to assist the governor in supervising the voluminous processes of the state government. The secretaries of the agencies are expected to provide leadership as well as policy guidance to their own departments, and serve as a communication liaison between the governor and the departments, review department budgets, legislative and administrative programs.

On the governor’s Web site, the commissions, boards and advisory committees are broken down alphabetically. The appointments to the boards, commissions, advisory panels and committees are named within each commission’s outline of responsibilities, compensation and powers and authorities.

Of the Schwarzenegger board and commission appointments, in just the letter “A” grouping, there are 126 pages of commissions with some really strange and questionable sounding boards – Academic Content Standards Commission, an Acupuncture Advisory Board, Adult Offender Supervisory Board, the African American Museum Board, and even a board for Alarm Company Operators Disciplinary issues, each with its own appointees.

Of course, listed under the “A’s,” the Agricultural Labor Relations Board as well as the Air Resources Board are hot topics these days, and very controversial political boards. It will be interesting to see what Brown does with these board members as terms expire or appointees become too “radioactive,” as one current appointee described herself.

Listings for boards sand commissions under “B and C” is 115 pages, including the “Capitol Area Committee,” a board which is supposed to help the Department of General Services make useful decisions “in carrying out its duties in the Capitol region.” I would assume that the DGS has plenty of employees living in the Capitol region, perfectly capable of helping the agency carry out its duties.

Each of the boards and commissions listings was between 110 and 155 pages. And each governor is responsible for making the appointments as they become available – it’s one of the campaign payback perks available to governors.

Many are wondering if Brown will make fewer appointments. According to Steve Maviglio, a well-known Democratic political consultant, “Jerry Brown is going to downsize government so it is leaner without becoming meaner. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him working with legislative leaders to reduce the number of political appointments drastically.”

Associates working within some state agencies report hearing that the number of deputy secretaries will decrease dramatically. And since most people don’t really know what most deputy secretaries do anyway, this is probably a good thing.

“Governor elect Brown is looking to trim government everywhere possible, including appointed positions,” reported Sterling Clifford, Brown’s chief campaign spokesman.

This can’t be anything but good news.

The state Web site listing the hundreds of state agencies does not necessarily list agency secretaries or deputy secretaries for every agency, as many are under the authority of a bigger, parent agency. However, the Department of General Services is one agency with many layers of administrative staff and appointments. With an “Acting Agency Director,” two “Chief Deputy Directors,” and nine “Deputy Directors,” the very large agency is very well appointed, and not necessarily the most fiscally conservative agency in the state. This is one agency I am hoping is in Brown’s radar.

A very different type of state agency from DGS, the smaller Department of Food And Agriculture has one appointed secretary, and three deputy secretaries, within six different divisions, and is responsible for working with and supporting the state’s many agriculture producers.

The question on everyone’s mind is exactly how will Brown’s frugality will translate to running the state. Personal frugality may not have much of an impact on state agencies as large as DGS or Food and Agriculture. California is going to need much more from Brown than just making small or symbolic financial gestures like cheap living quarters or economy cars.

And cuts to the state’s departmental budgets may not make Brown’s union allies happy, but we’re getting down to the bone in California where even traditional liberals are screaming for more fiscal accountability. It’s the politicians and union leaders who have resisted change.

The state is not only broke, we are laboring under a $25 billion deficit, with an average of 12.4 percent unemployment. Real estate is still in the tank, the cost of living is increasing in the state, and local governments are squeezing the last drop out of residents with crash taxes and red-light cameras, parking tickets in residential neighborhoods, fee-hikes for decreased city and county services, and the like. I am expecting to be ticketed one day soon for not licensing my dog, or getting fined for mixing recyclables into the garbage can.

A little relief from the state would be nice.

Schwarzenegger has been such a disappointment that Jerry Brown and his frugality is looking pretty good. And if Maviglio is right, a leaner state government could translate into fewer expensive agency appointments, which hopefully will translate into meaningful budget and department cuts for overall savings. An improved “less mean” business atmosphere would help as well, since the state is losing businesses faster than Arnold can go through a box of Cuban cigars.

I hope the state party leadership is listening – business as usual is no longer an option.

Katy Grimes

State agency directory

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