Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. — John F. Kennedy
By David Liebler.
There’s something in the water in Amador County. Perhaps it’s passion for public service, a desire to learn and lead, or just a commitment to improving the lives of others. Call it what you want, but the rural county of 37,000 residents is demonstrating its leadership at the state level in a big – and very unique – way.
Any followers of CSAC know that Amador County Supervisor Richard Forster is our Association President. But did you know that Amador representatives are also currently playing leadership roles in the state associations for sheriffs, district attorneys and chief probation officers?
That’s right. Amador County Chief Probation Officer Mark Bonini is the current president of the Chief Probation Officers Association of California; Sheriff Martin Ryan ended his term as President of the California State Sheriffs’ Association in April; and District Attorney Todd Riebe will assume the presidential duties of the California District Attorneys Association next June. Toss in the fact that Jim Rooney served as President of the California Assessors Association in 2013 and you can see how something special has been happening in Amador County.
Each of the officials has been involved in their respective organizations for years; it was just happenstance that they climbed the ranks at the same time. Sheriff Ryan describes the realization they were all on a similar timeline to lead their associations as an “aha moment.”
“We are united by passion for public service. We love what we do and we strive to be better leaders,” explains Riebe, now in his fifth term as the Amador County DA.
There is obviously strong mutual respect among the foursome. Sheriff Ryan swore in Supervisor Forster as President at last year’s CSAC Annual Meeting. And Mark Bonini says that when Sheriff Ryan spoke at a recent chief probation officers meeting, it was the first time anyone could remember that happening. The four don’t agree on every issue but they are never adversarial – and can look at things from the statewide perspective.
“We have a great relationship in the County,” Supervisor Forster explains. “We have a very direct line of communication and are able to talk candidly about issues. DA Riebe concurs: “We all know, like and respect each other.”
It’s the first time an Amador County official has served as President of any of these four associations. But the fact that they come from a rural county has had no bearing on their effectiveness as statewide leaders. As Chief Probation Officer Bonini puts it, “Even small counties can be on the big stage.” Most counties are facing similar issues that are scalable.
In emphasizing leadership, Supervisor Forster puts out the importance of “having a seat at the table where the issues are being discussed.” All four officials say this is particularly important for a small county that can’t afford to have its own lobbyist in Sacramento.
The leadership positions of Forster, Ryan, Riebe and Bonini have been noted in Sacramento – and their work has had positive direct and indirect impacts for Amador County. They point to the jail construction monies allocated to Amador by the state as a perfect example where their association positions played a key role. “In Sacramento, it has put Amador on the map,” Sheriff Ryan responds.
“Being a leader in our respective associations has helped all the way around,” says Supervisor Forster, who was first elected to the Amador board in 2000. “It provides us with a perspective on how other counties are looking and dealing with issues. And the skills we have developed as association presidents are helping us to be better leaders in Amador County.”
“In looking back at what we have accomplished, it’s pretty remarkable and unprecedented,” Bonini says. “I don’t know when you’ll ever see this again.”