Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Staff of Life (and the Life of Staff)

When someone gets elected to the County Council, it becomes very clear to them very quickly that there is no way they can effectively represent the needs of their constituents without a lot of help. Remember, in the County Council there are five district councilmembers who represent specific geographic areas in the County and four at-large councilmembers who are elected County-wide. So, district councilmembers represent about 200,000 people and at-large councilmembers represent nearly 1 million people! As you might imagine, that many people have a lot of important issues that need to be addressed, and we could spend all of our time just going to meetings, and returning phone calls. While individual councilmembers may set the tone for how they address issues, or interact with their constituents, the staff that we have in our offices allow us to really get things done.

There are two categories of staff who work at the County Council. There is the permanent council staff, affectionately referred to as the "Fifth Floor," because most of their offices are on the fifth floor of the Council Office Building (COB). This staff covers analysis of specific issue areas for all Councilmembers, handle the Council's administrative activities (i.e. scheduling, preparation of packets for Councilmembers and the public, etc.) and generally make sure the Council operates on a daily basis. The Fifth Floor staff generally outlast the terms of specific Councilmembers and provide the institutional perspective for County policy.

The second category of staff are the staff members who work in individual Councilmember offices. Each Councilmember has an individual office budget and hires administrative and policy staff as they deem appropriate within the constraints of their budget. While staffing varies from office to office, each councilmember generally has 4 - 5 staff members. One position, the oddly named Confidential Aide position, is mandated in the County Charter and basically serves in the capacity as chief of staff for each Councilmember's office. Other positions can include administrative support, policy analysts, constituent case-workers, and communications. Although in most offices the lines between these specific positions is usually blurred and everyone chips in to get the job done depending upon the issue.

Without the support of the Fifth Floor staff, and the staff in each of our individual council offices there is no way that Councilmembers could ever meet the needs of the residents of our County and we are grateful for their assistance and support. While Councilmembers run for office and generally recognize the changes that will occur in their life if they win, our staff can generally be impacted by many of the same changes although they may not recognize it right away. One of the things that our staff works very hard to do is to maintain some semblance of a life away from their efforts on our behalf at the Council and I continue to be amazed at some of their undertakings.

Currently on the Council staff we have a newly published author (Brian Jay Jones on my staff who has just completed a biography of Washington Irving), an entrepreneur who owns and operates a clothing boutique, a budding Texas Hold'em poker player who is not quite ready for the World Series of Poker, but is close, a Park Ranger, the chair of the Commission for Women, students working on various college degrees, a number of political activists at the state and national level, a number of very proud parents and grandparents and many community volunteers and advocates.

The Councilmembers may actually vote and establish the County's laws and policies, but it is our staff who provide the effort to make us successful representing the residents of our County. It is important to remember all of the other folks on the fifth and sixth floor of the COB who often work behind the scenes on behalf of our County and who are all amazingly accomplished in their own right and excel everyday -- without them none of us get very far.

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