Local Government
The Future of Special Districts in 2016

The Future of Special Districts in 2016

By Bill Nelson, President of the California Special Districts Association.

In 2000, I retired from private industry and became involved in a number of different groups, one of which was the Orange County Grand Jury. This was my first exposure to government agencies, and to be frank, it did not start off as a good one. In investigating some of the agencies, I was appalled at some of the shenanigans that went on in government. When I finished my term, I informed the supervisor about my desire to learn more about these agencies.

What followed was an appointment to my local cemetery district. At that point I did not know there was such a thing as the cemetery district, as most folks do not know. That was the Orange County Cemetery District and I took a lot of grief from my friends and relatives about being part of this obscure government entity.

What I found was that this local agency served a very vital public service, as is the case with all special districts. There was definitely a need in the community and the Orange County Cemetery District served that need. That was how I first got involved with special districts. Coming from the private sector, my first impression of working within a local government was not a favorable one. I became frustrated with a system that seemed very inefficient.

Every decision seemed to take twice as long. There seemed to be endless and unnecessary rules and regulations. One of these regulations was the Brown Act, which prevented a majority of board members from speaking to one another about district business outside of a public meeting. In the private sector there was no such thing. Board members could get together and agree to an outcome before beginning the meeting. There were no rules preventing this common practice which help to speed decisions along.

After learning more about the district and the role as a public fiduciary, I learned the importance of the Brown Act and other regulations governing special districts. The mechanisms that seemed like a huge waste of time, were the ones that were the most important aspect of managing a public agency. As a public official, I learned that I was no longer acting on behalf of a private industry. In this new role, I was acting for every resident I represented and my commitment was to provide transparency and accountability to the public.

The more time I spent with the Orange County Cemetery District, the greater my appreciation developed for the important role special districts play in their communities.

My personal involvement with the California Special Districts Association (CSDA) developed from a calling to help other special districts become more efficient while navigating through the regulations imposed on them by the state and other governments.

CSDA has become an integral part of ensuring special districts are equipped with the necessary tools to make sure they operate in the most efficient and effective manner. Their commitment to their members is what motivated me to run for president of the CSDA board.

In this new role, I am looking forward to continue working with CSDA to ensure California’s special districts are provided with every opportunity to enhance their professional development, and to continue our efforts to educate the public about these vital local government agencies.

We began the year with a new professional development catalogue, an aggressive public outreach campaign and have grown our advocacy efforts by introducing new legislative measures to assist our special districts.

CSDA has developed a wide array of educational opportunities for our members to learn more about the different aspects of managing a local agency. Webinars are offered on various topics, from FPPC reporting and Ethics training, to Proposition 218 and New Developments in the Brown Act. Our goal is to ensure our members have access to important training.

The Districts Make the Difference campaign launched in January. This effort is focused on educating the public by providing important information about the special districts that serve our communities. DistrictsMaketheDifference.org features information about each type of special district in the form of videos, fact sheets and links to our new social media platforms which include a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a YouTube channel.

In addition to tracking several pieces of legislation that impact special districts, CSDA will also be sponsoring two pieces of legislation to assist our members, as well as other local government agencies. The first measure, Assembly Bill 2613 by Assembly Member Katcho Achadjian focuses on the cost of audits. The second measure, Senate Bill 1292 by Senator Jeff Stone is focused on promoting greater accuracy in grand jury reports.

During my term as president, it is my goal to help CSDA reach out to all 2,109 independent special districts, to give them a voice in the state, and assist in providing them with valuable resources to make them the best form of local government agencies California has ever seen.

CSDA - Nelson, BillBill Nelson is the President for the California Special Districts Association (CSDA). Founded in 1969, a 501c(6), not-for-profit association that promotes good governance and improved core local services through professional development, advocacy, and other services for all types of independent special districts. CSDA represents over 1,000 special districts and affiliated organizations that provide millions of Californians essential local services such as water delivery, healthcare, vector control, fire protection, and public safety. 

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