County to form focus groups


Staff Writer

Archuleta County’s strengths, weaknesses, needs, obstacles and priorities were the topic of a two-hour meeting held for elected officials, department heads and supervisors on May 9.

The meeting, called by the county’s new administrator, Jesse Smith, was the first step in a process of not only solving problems within the county organization, but in creating a strategic plan for the county from which to budget.

“We’re starting over,” Smith said, beginning the meeting. “This is a new day.”

The next step in the process, which Smith explained in the meeting and in a follow-up interview, is to convene several focus groups comprising a variety of randomly selected residents of Archuleta County.

Smith is currently working on letters to send out to residents seeking participation in the focus groups, with those letters anticipated to be mailed out by next week.

Focus groups will then be formed from those who indicate a desire to participate, with each group dealing with the same topics, which Smith declined to release in advance.

“I want spontaneous kinds of reactions,” Smith said.

Smith indicated that those residents who agree to take part in the focus groups will receive information about Archuleta County — what it does, what it doesn’t do, what it can do, and what it can’t do prior to the focus groups.

And the process is expected to be relatively quick.

“I would like to have the whole project completed by the end of June, as far as the focus groups,” Smith said.

Focus group answers will be compiled into a document similar to the one presented at the May 9 meeting.

Ultimately, the responses, both from county staff and officials and from the focus groups, will inform a strategic plan to be used for prioritization and to drive the county budgeting process.

Leading up to the May 9 meeting, Smith held a series of one-hour meetings to discuss perceived strengths, weaknesses, obstacles, needs and priorities with staff and elected officials, compiling the results of those meetings in a handout given to everyone at the meeting.

“This is phase one of a multi-phase process,” Smith noted, adding, “It has to be a total team effort to address this.”

The handout included 22 pages of notes gathered by Smith during the interviews.

“I think perceptions are extra important and need to be addressed,” Smith said.

Smith then proceeded to go through each category and ask those at the meeting if the notes accurately reflected the interviews, and asking what they thought of each.

In going through each category, staff and officials present expressed surprise at how many more weaknesses were expressed than strengths, noted the county’s responsibility to not only taxpayers, but to everyone who passes through the county, the need for involvement, the importance of volunteers and more.

Surprise was also expressed at the variety of topics listed when each individual was asked to name the county’s top three priorities, with some calling the variety “mind-boggling.”

Some of those 29 priorities listed in the 22-page document included, in no particular order: roads, integrity, communications, dependable and sustainable revenue source, jobs, funding for training, compensation, financial stability, growing the economy and internal controls.

“You can eat an elephant one bite at a time,” Smith noted, asking staff if any of the priorities were impossible, to which various staff and officials responded that it would take years, and that some could be tackled in conjunction with others.

Smith added that priorities would be changed and adjusted yearly as tasks were completed or if the need to adapt or react surfaced.

In another document provided by Smith, each overall category was summarized in four to nine statements.

The summary of the county’s overall priorities included:

• Vision, strategy and direction.

• Teamwork.

• Improved communications.

• Financial security/stability.

• Education, both internal and external.

Other discussion included the need to utilize resources available to the county, and that a general sense of fear in the county could, through a process, be replaced with hope and a pride in a county job.

“Life’s too darn short to be miserable,” Smith noted.

In concluding the two-hour meeting, Smith again spoke of need for inclusion and, in response to questions of, “What now?” told staff to begin taking little steps, commit to the process and act on it.

“This is the first step. It’s not the end,” Smith said.