One of the interesting parts of working during a global pandemic, especially in 2020 and 2021 with the technology we now have, is being able to be in more places than ever before — without ever leaving my home or my desk.
In the first two days of this week, I have covered government meetings in Crescent City, Calif., Brookings and North Bend. Over the last month, I have covered the Coos Bay City Council, North Bend City Council, Coos County commissioners, Curry County commissioners, Del Norte County supervisors and Crescent City City Council, and only twice have I gone anywhere in person, once to Curry County commissioners and once to North Bend City Council.
The ability to do so much without ever leaving my desk, or in some cases, my bedroom has given me the unique opportunity to watch how different government entities work. Those of you who rarely see government bodies in action would be surprised how different they can be from city to city and county to county.
Generally speaking, there are three kinds of local government bodies. The first is dominated by a strong hired official, either a city manager or county administrator type. Often, those meetings are rather boring as the elected body listens to a report from staff and votes how staff recommends. Often in those cities, you will see few opposed elections as the level of interest in government is pretty low.
That can be good and bad. A strong leader is wonderful if the leader is wonderful. If the leader has issues and the council puts all their faith in him or her, that can be a big problem.
In this region, none of our governments work that way. I would guess the closest is probably Coos Bay, where Rodger Craddock is a deeply respected city manager who seems to know the answer to every question. I say that as a compliment. Rodger really does appear to know it all, and his council seems to agree. But the Coos Bay council does ask a lot of questions, does debate issues and does come to conclusions on their own.
In North Bend, you can tell there is a relatively inexperienced council with a new city leader. They are learning together. But in doing so, they listen intently, ask a lot of questions and work together to come up with solutions. I actually like it.
North Bend has some big budget issues it is dealing with, so the council and staff have some challenges over the next few months. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
I have only seen one Coos County meeting, but since there is no hired leader in the county, it is clear commissioners are in charge. And they are different. It leads to good debates and good details about the nitty-gritty of government. With no administrator and strong elected officials, Coos County put a lot of faith in three people, but so far, they seem up to the task.
That brings us to Curry County, where county officials have been in the news a lot lately. I have covered several communities similar to Curry County, and what they are going through, I commonly refer to as growing pains. Much like Coos County, Curry County has strong commissioners. They do have a top county official, but that position is not meant to be a county administrator, leaving three commissioners to oversee day-to-day operations.
And it’s been a challenge. Two commissioners have differing views on what being in charge means and it shows at almost every meeting. While it is concerning at times, ultimately, it’s a pretty good sign. Curry County is going through growing pains, but to get anywhere good, sometimes it requires some pain.
To the far south of our coverage area, lies Crescent City, Calif. The city council and city staff there might be my favorite to watch of any of them. The council is mostly young and relatively inexperienced, and almost every department head in the city was hired in the last four years.
But they have big plans and big goals and are shooting for the moon. I can’t predict how things will turn out long-term, but the city seems to trust them based on election results last year where voters approved a tax on themselves to fund city functions.
Government from the inside is a messy beast. It moves slow, it often angers the residents, but it is vitally important. During COVID, you, too, could get an inside look. Watch on Zoom or via video. It might be surprising.