Goals vary as first-time office holders take charge; sheriff foresees swift change ahead

Newly elected San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs takes the oath of office

Deadlines are nothing new at the assessor’s office.

But the responsibility for ensuring those deadlines are met is now in the hands of someone new.

John Kulseth, an 11-year department veteran and former chief appraiser, took over the reins at the first of the year with the endorsement of his predecessor and nose to the grindstone, and knowing all too well that whatever changes he’d like to make will have to wait. At least until the first 60 days of 2015 have come and gone.

“We have to calculate the levies for all the taxing district by Jan. 15,” said Kulseth, who began a first-ever foray as an elected official at the start of the year. “We can’t do that until we have all the property values and the final assessments are done. People can change the ‘nature’ of their property and make real estate transactions all the way through December 31. And, there’s always a flurry of activity in December.”

Property tax statements must be mailed by mid-February. The assessor’s office must first finish its task before the treasurer can get those statements in the mail.

Newly elected Treasurer Rhonda Pederson also inherited an assortment of deadlines to keep track of. She uses an electronic calendar and relies on her predecessor’s as well to remain mindful of the many tasks and dates that can’t be missed.

A longtime county employee and former auditor’s office chief accountant, Pederson begins her first-ever elected tenure well-versed with fiscal operations and systems at work in the county and knowing that the duties of cataloging and oversight of tax monies is the part the job which will take time to master.

To become more familiar with that aspect of the office, Pederson opted to spend vacation time shadowing her predecessor before the close of 2014.

“The first 60 days I think will mostly be about making sure I don’t forget to do something I’m supposed to,” Pederson said. “Everyone makes mistakes, we’re all human. But it’s still hard to swallow that I’ll end up making a mistake.”

Kulseth and Pederson join Sheriff Ron Krebs as first-time San Juan County elected officials. Each is slated to serve a four-year term at the top of their respective departments, and together they will manage roughly $6.6 million in budgeted expenses and supervise about 45 employees in 2015 (the sheriff oversees various budgets totaling roughly $4.8 million and the treasurer will oversee a $2.3 million “trust fund” in 2015, a newly created account within the county budget).

PedersonoathThe three first-time public office holders join five veteran elected department heads that all begin a new four-year term in 2015: Auditor Milene Henley, County Clerk Joan White, County Councilman Jamie Stephens (Lopez/Shaw), District Court Judge Stewart Andrew and Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord.

After a total of eight years in office, Henley, who spent the entirety of her prior professional career in the private sector, mostly self-employed in financial services, begins a third term with a more-seasoned perspective of the public arena’s inner-workings than she had when she first took office back in 2007.

Patience and cooperation are key, and change typically occurs in steps, she said, not all at once.

“Nothing happens fast in government and that’s by design,” Henley said. “That’s because government is supposed to represent all the people.”

Although the pace of change could prove discouraging, she offers this advice to the newly elected: “Keep your eye on the goal and don’t be deterred by the bureaucracy.”

Still, the centerpiece of the Krebs campaign in the race for sheriff was a need for change. Islanders may expect nothing less after handing him the election with a 64-percent margin of victory.

Since taking office, Krebs has initiated several changes he believes will help “rebuild the foundation of the department.”

Krebs said the sworn officers have all read and signed a “mission, vision and values,” statement, equivalent to a “code of ethics” that will serve as a tool to measure “how we conduct ourselves.” The office now operates with a single training officer and detective Brent Johnson has been appointed undersheriff, the department’s second in command.

KulsethoathHe said discussions have been renewed with other public safety agencies that could lead to full-scale use of the Sentinel, the newly acquired, multi-purpose public safety boat. Use of the 38-foot boat, featuring greater fire-fighting capacity, landing capability, weather protection and speed, and paid for by a $600,000-plus federal grant, has been restricted by the lack of coordinated and adequate polices, procedures and training.

Krebs intends to quickly mend a strained relationship with prosecutors by providing them with better, more complete reports of cases likely to end up in court. He’s instituted bi-weekly meetings of department command staff.

The pieces are all there, Krebs maintains, with dedicated, skilled and hard-working officers, dispatchers and employees, and that the task is getting everyone onboard and headed in the same direction.

“I’ve been working pretty diligently the last two months to figure out what steps we can take to raise the professionalism and morale of the department,” he said. “And I think that’s going to happen real fast.”