Weekly Letter: Staffing Up

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One of the greatest challenges faced by local governments today is recruiting and retaining the quality public servants that it takes to deliver the services that communities need.

I think the magic formula isn’t just offering good pay and benefits, but also offering purpose. When people see that local government is making life better in communities, they want to be part of it.

On Monday night, I got to see the proof of that concept from our on-the-move Fire Department. We have a dynamic leader in Chief Trisha Wolford and a well-organized brother and sisterhood that is demonstrating service and heroism every day. 

That’s why our Fire Academy graduated no less than 61 men and women at a Maryland Hall ceremony that was standing room only in the main auditorium. With 39% people of color, it was the most diverse class in county history, and the average score on tests during the 30 week academy was a very high 84%. That’s progress.

Unfortunately, many of our departments still struggle to fill positions, and part of their challenge has been cumbersome bureaucratic hiring processes that are written into our county code. It’s been a complaint for many years, but at the start of 2023 I asked incoming Chief Administrative Officer Christine Anderson to work with Personnel Director Anne Budowski on a plan. They brought in Deputy CAO Hannah Dier to lead an internal workgroup, and at our cabinet meeting yesterday they presented 26 potential solutions. The most effective on that list will streamline the process, but require that the County Council modernize our code. I’m confident that our Council will get on board, because both political parties want efficient government.

My job in all of this is to act as recruiter-in-chief. Next Tuesday is when we release my annual State of the County Address, and if it’s effective more people will want to work in county government.

Here’s the basic message.

The state of our county is strong by current performance metrics. Our departments are well run. Our bond ratings are all AAA for the first time in county history. People want to live here, and businesses are thriving. 

But it’s our future that concerns us. Wealth disparities here and across the country are as extreme as they were in the nineteen twenties and thirties. That’s unsustainable for our county. Our economy needs a healthy, educated workforce. That’s why businesses are asking for government intervention to address the issues that deliver that workforce. 

So that’s what the speech is about. The theme is Building a Foundation for Our Future, and it describes what we’re doing on housing, education, workforce, childcare, reentry, immigration, transportation, recreation, green infrastructure and resilience, gun violence, health and mental health, business regulation, agriculture, water access, and Crownsville Hospital Memorial Park.

But it starts and ends with public service. 

So I close with a list of every county department, and the following comments about them:

“All have basic responsibilities to our residents, and each delivers a service every day. 

“Despite staffing shortages, the work is getting done, and that is because we have well managed institutions with a workforce of people who believe in service.

“If you want to help build the foundation for the future of your county, please get to know county government at our recently reorganized web site - aacounty.org. 

“You can participate through a board or commission, apply for a county job, or influence government from the outside through community organizing.

“Whatever you do, please remember always that we are a community with shared dreams, shared resources, and opportunities every day to make life better for our neighbors.

“Thank you for helping to make Anne Arundel County The Best Place - For All.”

Until next week…

Steuart Pittman
Anne Arundel County Executive