San Mateo County’s new manager takes the reins
San Francisco Examiner
December 4, 2008
REDWOOD CITY — The San Mateo County manager seat isn’t relinquished lightly: It has only changed occupants four times in the last 50 years.
Meet No. 5: David Boesch, 51, who has served nearly two years at the side of retiring County Manager John Maltbie. On Jan. 1, Boesch will officially step into the top job, and by all accounts he has big shoes to fill.
Like Maltbie, who took the post in 1989, Boesch comes on just as the county is at the brink of recession. San Mateo County faces a $28.6 million deficit this year, which could balloon to $92 million by 2013, according to the county budget manager, if leaders don’t take quick action.
Meanwhile, plans to build a new jail facility to relieve overcrowding at Maguire Correctional Facility — the county’s men’s jail — along with the falling-apart women’s jail, will cost the county between $130 million and $150 million. Additionally, a total overhaul of the health care system, aimed at serving patients better while cutting subsidies by $20 million, is already under way and due for completion in March 2010.
Boesch said he also hopes to reduce the county’s contributions to climate change and pollution — all while developing long-range plans that will carry the region through the year 2025.
“The Board of Supervisors has the sense that [Boesch] can rise to the challenge,” Supervisor Rich Gordon said. “And certainly we intend to give him the opportunity — this is a very difficult time to be a county manager.”
And with already full hands, Boesch comes in at a time when several longtime county leaders — including interim health system Director Charlene Silva and 10-year Supervisor Jerry Hill — are on their way out.
“It’s a lot rockier now [than when Maltbie was in office],” said Adrienne Tissier, president of the county Board of Supervisors. “A lot of institutional memory is walking out the door.”
That said, the new chief has a long history in public service.
Boesch grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and earned a bachelor’s degree in urban planning in 1979 from the University of Utah. After working as a Utah planner, he got his master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University.
In 1996, Boesch became community development director in Sunnyvale before taking the city manager’s reins in 2000 in Menlo Park.
During his time in Menlo Park, Boesch developed a reputation for fiscal responsibility and a broad view — one that understands San Mateo County’s place in the bigger picture of finances, transportation and legislation regionally and statewide, according to Rich Napier, director of the City/County Association of Governments.
Boesch said he’s ready to get to work — and work with others — to tackle San Mateo’s needs.
“I have a conference table in my office that’s used almost constantly,” Boesch said. “My style is very collegial and inclusive, and I recognize that many of the issues … are complex.”
Family: Married, one child
Residence: Menlo Park
Years in public service: 22
Years as assistant San Mateo County manager: Nearly two
First day as San Mateo County manager: Jan. 1
Deficit widening as new manager steps in
Retiring County Manager John Maltbie socked away $200 million for a rainy day in San Mateo County. Now, storm clouds are starting to form.
The county faces a $28.6 million deficit this year — which could balloon to $92 million by 2013 if the government stays its course, according to Jim Saco, who manages the county’s budget department. The county’s total budget is $1.7 billion.
When incoming County Manager David Boesch takes over in January, one of his first orders of business will be to determine the region’s fiscal direction.
“We’re not going to solve the problem in a single year,” Boesch said. “The [Board of Supervisors has] embraced a five-year strategy, and we want to be very deliberate about how we go about bringing the budget into balance.”
The fiscal gap arises from a number of sources at once, including statewide funding cuts and losses among local tax revenue, including income the county makes on property sales. It didn’t help that San Mateo County had $155 million invested with Lehman Brothers Inc. before its collapse, Saco said.
Cuts from state-level funding would likely reduce public services — including health and elderly care — normally bankrolled by those funds. Boesch said he’ll take a sharp look at which county-funded services could be streamlined or even consolidated to save money.
What exactly does a county manager do?
A county manager is appointed to manage the day-to-day operations of government, along with implementing legislation adopted by elected bodies.
San Mateo’s county manager is responsible for overseeing:
5,278 county employees (currently)
18 county departments
$1.7 billion county budget
733,496 county residents
Source: San Mateo County
Health system revamp suddenly in new hands
The cost of health care is rising three times as fast as inflation, costing San Mateo County a pretty penny when it comes to caring for uninsured and underinsured residents.
To address both the financial stability of the system along with the health needs of residents, an effort to completely revamp the health department was launched in March, led by retiring County Manager John Maltbie.
During the next two years, all government-provided health services — from the public hospital to health inspections — will come under one umbrella, according to incoming County Manager David Boesch, who steps in Jan. 1.
Roughly 60,000 clients — most of them county residents — receive services through hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities and other providers, according to Srija Srinivasan, special assistant to the county manager.
Once the consolidation is complete, health services will be the county’s single biggest department, with 2,100 employees and a budget of nearly $500 million, according to Srinivasan.
“There are a lot of people in the county, wealthy as it is, who have inadequate coverage and don’t get treatment until they’re very sick,” Boesch said. “They come to our emergency rooms, but we think we can do better in terms of preventing chronic disease.”
By streamlining health care systems, leaders also hope to shave off $20 million in health subsidies, according to Boesch.
After 20 years, Maltbie leaves behind a mighty legacy
If the rule is, “Leave things better than you found them,” retiring San Mateo County Manager John Maltbie has followed it well.
When Maltbie took office as the county’s top administrator in March 1989, the region was sliding into a recession. By June of that year he had delivered his first budget to the Board of Supervisors. When he officially retires Dec. 30, he will leave the county $200 million richer.
Maltbie got there by bucking the conventional wisdom about how to operate government.
“There’s a tendency on the part of elected officials to provide more services because nobody likes to say no to constituents,” said Supervisor Jerry Hill, recently elected to the California Assembly after 10 years representing San Mateo County. “But he would paint the picture of what the future would look like and convince us. He’s kept us afloat.”
In addition to bringing a hefty fiscal cushion to San Mateo County, Maltbie helped the region’s 20 small cities and towns rally collectively at the state level, partly through the creation of joint agencies such as the City/County Association of Governments, according to Director Rich Napier.
“When we went after resources, we were speaking with one voice,” said Napier.
For example, that voice allowed the county to secure $60 million in state infrastructure bond money to pay for a countywide auxiliary lane currently under construction on Highway 101.
When asked what he’s most proud of, Maltbie talks about the creation of universal health care for the county’s uninsured children, boosting nonprofit services in schools, along with using the Children’s Report Card to measure whether kids are getting what they need.
Maltbie said he’s loved his life of public service.
“I enjoyed the challenges and the opportunity to be engaged in work where I could see the immediate impact on people’s lives,” he said.
This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.