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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, June 3, 2011

County leaders more interested in politics than people

For San Diego's North County Times
A study of the county's reorganized Family Resource Centers released last month by the San Diego State University Sociology Department and the Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI) found that changes in the business model to improve service have caused the opposite of what was intended.

In a written response, county officials called the report a "labor-sponsored stunt."
Without challenging the study's findings, county administrators questioned its objectivity because of the researcher's affiliation with the San Diego-based CPI, an organization county officials say is "linked" to the Service Employees International Union.

A nonprofit organization promoting policies that improve the lives of working people, the CPI has a 13-member board of directors that includes one SEI Union member, one member of the San Diego and Imperial County Labor Council, and the SDSU professor who conducted the study. It's hardly a "labor union passing itself off as a think tank," as county officials claim.
The survey of 342 county employees was conducted by unpaid graduate students. Union leaders helped provide access to workers. No union money supported the project.

The 2009 San Diego Report Card on Children and Families noted San Diego County has the lowest participation rate of needy children receiving food assistance of any large urban area in the nation. The report's key recommendation was to expand outreach and streamline and simplify the application process.

The SDSU/CPI study acknowledged the county has increased advertising for the program, resulting in a 97 percent increase in CalWorks and food stamp applications from 2001 to 2010. During that period, there's been only a 1 percent increase in staffing. Three out of four workers surveyed agreed the new business process has produced a decline in efficiency in handling applications.

Rather than addressing the report's recommendations, county officials chose to blame their employees, pointing out workers were involved in the design of the new system and participated in feedback through ongoing meetings, focus groups, and email.

If their websites are any indication, North County's supervisors are unconcerned about the work of the Family Service Centers. That's surprising, since the Health and Human Services Agency consumes the lion's share, 38 percent, of the county's budget.

Bill Horn can't find room for the agency in his list of 5th District priorities. "Pam's Priorities," for 3rd District Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, includes "animal welfare," but serving needy families doesn't make the list.

If it's fair to question labor-union self-interest in the SDSU/CPI study, it's also fair to question Bill Horn's self-interest in attacking the county's proposed general plan revision. Is he as worried about the property rights of his constituents as he is about the business interests of land developers, his most generous campaign contributors?

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