Innovation, customer service key to L.A. County’s future

It is an honor to be selected as Chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for the upcoming year. I would like to thank Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas for an outstanding year as Chairman.  He led us through a challenging year, and we as a County are stronger because of his leadership and direction.

This is a bittersweet time for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

In the upcoming year, we will be saying goodbye to our colleagues Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky, who have served over 40 combined years on the Board.

In a matter of months, this Board will have a dramatically different look and feel. When Zev and Gloria ride off into the sunset next year, they’ll be taking with them irreplaceable knowledge and experience. While the term-limit ship sailed a long time ago, there is no doubt that this County has benefited enormously from steady, consistent leadership. I fear that term limits will make priorities more short-termed as well. I sure hope I am wrong.

This will be my final time serving as Chairman and to me, it will be the most meaningful. We face a number of great challenges, but our Board is strong and united, focused on good, responsible government for the 10 million residents of this great County.
I am proud that we have been able to work through some very critical issues and remain fiscally responsible.  We’ve dealt head-on with the problems that have come before us.  We have never kicked the can down the road.  Frankly, there is nowhere we can kick it!
Despite our different political viewpoints, this Board doesn’t get bogged down in partisan bickering like our colleagues at the federal and state level.  We can’t.  The buck stops here.

Los Angeles County is at one of the most significant crossroads in its 163 year history. In 2016, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas will be joined by four new Supervisors. For the five of us, this is our last chance to shape the future of this great County, ensure its viability for years to come, and set an example for those who will take the helm after us.

There is no question we are facing significant challenges across every realm of our responsibilities. Public safety, healthcare, and child welfare will require our seasoned leadership now more than ever. That doesn’t mean however, that we should set aside opportunities to look beyond those challenges. To that end, as Chairman, I am establishing two main focuses that will keep Los Angeles County on a path to prosperity and success for all residents: Innovation and Customer Service. I know that these terms can get thrown around a lot.  But it is important for us to think about them on a daily basis as we serve the 10 million residents of the largest county in the nation. We as a County, from the Board, to department heads to front-line employees, must look at how we serve our residents and ask ourselves, “How can we do this better?”

From the way our residents apply for assistance at a DPSS office, to the way someone casts a vote in an election, to how businesses open their doors; it’s time to bring this County into the 21st century. Interacting with the County should be as easy as making a purchase on Amazon.
But, we must realize that innovation should not just be updating old technologies and developing apps for smartphones. It should be about changing our overall culture to be more responsive to the needs of our residents. We need to commit ourselves to move away from the mentality that: “This is the way we’ve always done things.”

As we head into 2014, the need for greater innovation and customer service is coming to us in perhaps the biggest way this County has ever seen: the Affordable Care Act.

It doesn’t matter whether you were for it or against it, come January 1, 2014, it goes into effect.  There are major ramifications for Los Angeles County and we’ve been working hard to prepare for it. Under the Affordable Care Act, there will still be over 2 million uninsured residents in Los Angeles County that we are responsible for. Kaiser doesn’t have that challenge, neither does Cedars, Molina, or Blue Cross. As before the ACA, it will fall to us to care for those who have nowhere else to go. We need to make common-sense advancements and investments in order to attract new customers to our healthcare system, or we will only be left with non-paying customers.  Then, we need to bridge these innovations into the way we interact with our patients.  In the end, it is about the relationships and trust between our healthcare providers and our patients.

Healthcare reform could well be the greatest challenge this County has ever faced and I believe we are more than up to it. We already have some first-class medical facilities, and some of the best healthcare professionals in the country, but we are often thought of as being a system of last resort. We need to change that misconception and get our story out to the public. Though we will focus our efforts on changing our culture, we must not forget our most vulnerable constituents who will continue to rely on the County as a safety net.

I think our most important job as County Supervisors is to protect those who would have no voice without us, particularly our children.  Over the last two years, I have been focused on the issue of young girls, some even 10 years-old, who are being sexually exploited for money by pimps. Once again, it’s Los Angeles County at the forefront of this fight. I’m proud of what we have been able to accomplish so far in spreading the word and getting these girls the critical services they need to survive. But over the next year, I want this County to remain vigilant and aggressive about preventing this horrific crime and helping the young girls who are able to survive. Like the Safe Surrender program, this is an all-hands-on-deck issue.  It’s not just DCFS or Probation: it’s all of us.

We are the largest county in the nation. When it comes to public policy, our voice is amongst the loudest. We have 39 departments, working to meet the needs of 10 million residents.  I know how hard our employees work, often in very challenging environments, under extraordinary pressures. But sometimes I think we get caught-up in our own challenges, without stepping back to look at the big picture. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: County departments become too close-minded and get tunnel vision because they do not communicate with other departments.

Each department works within its own silo, and oftentimes spend time, energy, and funds to meet the same outcomes. One probation officer’s parolee could be a social worker’s client. We all serve the same population.

To tear down these silos and encourage our departments to work together, I am establishing the “Chairman’s Challenge.” At the end of the year, an award will be given to the two or more departments that work together to develop and implement an innovative program or initiative that helps us meet the needs of our residents in a way that we haven’t always done things. Fresh.  New.  Not what people expect from government.

As Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

We have an opportunity to write a new chapter of County government that will be smarter, more efficient, better serving, and easier to work with. We can leave this County in a better place.

We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be. And the work starts now.