County Outreach – A Top Priority Here at CSAC
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of spending the afternoon in the Humboldt County Jail. Now before you start spreading rumors, I should let you know I was there to learn about an innovative county program for inmates that is aimed at breaking the cycle of recidivism. The individual behind the program is Vanessa Vrtiak, whose passion and commitment fills the room. Visiting our member counties is the best part of my job. And I know many of my colleagues feel the same way. I have been at CSAC now for two decades; never have I seen the Association make outreach to our counties such a priority.
Too often we feel we get tied to our desks here in Sacramento. But when I look back on the level of outreach we achieved in 2017 covering a wide variety of areas and programs, we accomplished more than first meets the eye.
For example, the CSAC Institute for Excellence in County Government continues to grow, and its reach can now be found throughout the state. Beyond our Sacramento campus, the Institute has created satellite campuses in Southern California, the Central Valley and the Bay Area. And starting this upcoming winter, we will be opening up a campus in Shasta County to bring professional development opportunities to our northern rural counties. The California Counties Foundation board, which oversees our Institute, recently had a brainstorming session to discuss new ways to bring Institute courses and workshops to our members.
We also continue to put increased emphasis on our regional meetings to discuss key policy issues. In 2017 we met in Humboldt County to discuss the impacts of cannabis legalization; we convened in Kern County to discuss water; and we recently traveled to Los Angeles County to focus on economic development. These regional meetings are providing an extensive day-long session where supervisors and staff can come together, hear from experts and discuss policy. Plans for 2018 regional meetings are already under way.
Speaking of policy, our legislative staff is often out on the road constantly these days it seems – especially once the Capitol takes a breather. You can find them working with counties on the successful Results First program that helps our members implement cost-effective, evidence-based, criminal-justice practices. That program is now being successfully utilized in nearly 10 counties – the result of numerous in-county meetings. You can find them in meetings with public works directors and treasurers, mental health directors and probation chiefs. And let’s not forget the scores of meetings taking place as CSAC helps counties navigate the cannabis maze. Just follow our twitter feed to see the amount of miles our staff has been traveling to meet with county supervisors and staff to discuss key policy and priorities.
CSAC also celebrates the innovation and successes of our counties through the Challenge Awards. In a seven-week period, CSAC staff will be presenting at 13 Boards of Supervisors meetings, ranging from Humboldt to San Bernardino, Sonoma to Nevada – and in numerous chambers in between. It’s a great way to spotlight county innovation, but also to provide an update on CSAC. We then follow up with county visits to learn about the award-winning programs and the people behind them. The result is a series of videos and blogs that spotlight county best practices. It was on one of these visits that I met Vanessa Vrtiak, who is making a difference in Humboldt County.
In 2018 we plan to take our outreach to new levels through a newly created external affairs coordinator position. We recently filled that position with an individual who has a unique background that brings together communications and public policy. If you didn’t have an opportunity to meet Alex Gilliland, our newest staff member, at last week’s CSAC Annual Meeting, there’s a good chance you will be seeing her in your community in the future. Her goal is to bring CSAC to your county, provide updates, listen to your issues and concerns, as well as help tell your story. She’s a California native and can’t wait to get out on the road.
We will see you in 2018 – in Sacramento and in your county.