Podcast: Changing Culture & COVID-19 Response with Raymond Gonzales, Adams County, CO

Posted on March 19, 2021

Raymond Gonzales - GovLove

Raymond Gonzales

Raymond Gonzales
County Manager
Adams County, Colorado
Bio | LinkedIn

Driving culture and the pandemic one year later. Raymond Gonzales, County Manager at Adams County, Colorado, joined the podcast to talk about changing the culture in Adams County. He outlined how he scrapped the traditional Human Resources Department and implemented a People & Culture Services Department. Raymond also reflected and detailed the County’s response to COVID-19. He shared what changes he thinks will stay after the pandemic and what challenges lie ahead.

Host: Ben Kittelson

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Episode Transcription

Ben Kittelson  00:12

Hey all! Coming to you from Jacksonville, Florida, this is Gov Love, a podcast about local government, brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders. I’m Ben Kittleson, consultant at Raftelis and Gov Love co host. We’ve got a great episode for today. We’re talking management and the response to COVID-19 in Adams County, Colorado. But first, the best way to support Gov Love is to become an ELGL member. ELGL is a professional association engaging the brightest minds in local government. Now, let me introduce today’s guest. Raymond Gonzales is the county manager of Adams County, Colorado, a position he has been in since 2017. Adams County serves over 515,000 residents and it’s one of the fastest growing counties in the state. Mr. Gonzales has over 22 years of experiencing, of experience encompassing every level of government. Previously, he served as assistant city manager in the city of Brighton, Colorado and has also held roles in the state of New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions and the Federal Department of Labor. Mr. Gonzales is a third generation resident of Adams County serving his hometown is part of his passion. In addition to his work for the county, he serves as vice president of the mountain Plains region of ICMA. And as the President of the Local Government Hispanic Network board of directors. With that, welcome to Gov Love Raymond. Thank you so much for joining us, despite the the feet of snow that your area received over the weekend.

Raymond Gonzales  01:30

Well, thank you, Ben. It’s an honor to be here with you today. 

Ben Kittelson  01:34

Awesome. So we have tradition on Gov Love to do a lightning round to help our our listeners get to know our guests a little better. So my first question for you. What is the first concert that you went to?

Raymond Gonzales  01:44

Oh, Ben, you’re bringing back some memories. Summer of 1988. I was 13 years old and I attended the Monsters of Rock concert at Mile High Stadium in Denver.

Ben Kittelson  01:55

Who was the headliner for that?

Raymond Gonzales  01:58

Metallica and Van Halen.

Ben Kittelson  01:59

Nice. That’s a great first concert.

Raymond Gonzales  02:05

I have a my sister, older sister who is six years older than me. That was the only way she was able to go is if she took her younger brother.

Ben Kittelson  02:15

Much to her chagrin, I’m sure but alright. But the second lightning round question for you. What book Have you given as a gift most often?

Raymond Gonzales  02:26

I actually give two books Ben. And they’re both really about leadership in different ways, too. And so the first one is the Art of Dancing in the Rain. And then the second one is the Dog Poop Initiative. And dog poop initiative is a children’s book that I give every single one of my senior leadership team members. And I also, we host an annual Bring Your Child to Work Day. And so we have three to 400 children who come with their parents to work in April. And that’s the book I read. And it really talks about the importance of being a leader and taking the initiative to clean up dog poop.

Ben Kittelson  03:08

That’s awesome. That’s such a that’s such a cute gift. I love that. 

Raymond Gonzales  03:13

Yeah, the kids love it and the directors love it. It’s It is truly if you have not read the book, I definitely would encourage you to go buy one. Because it is worth reading. And it’s a quick read, but there are so many leadership, you know, characteristics that stand out in that book.

Ben Kittelson  03:34

Very cool. Awesome. My next lighting round question for you: what’s a recent movie or TV show that you watched and that you’d recommend for our listeners?

Raymond Gonzales  03:45

Well, you mentioned Colorado having a winter storm the whole weekend. And so I was had nothing to do. And so I actually watched one of my favorite movies this weekend. It’s a classic. It’s Dead Poets Society. And, you know, one of the things that I love about that movie, it demonstrates powerful, authentic, transformational leadership. And if I were to teach a class on leadership, I would definitely use that movie to help me, you know, illustrate what authentic transformational leadership is all about.

Ben Kittelson  04:23

Oh, interesting. I don’t think I’ve watched that since maybe like high school or something. I need to I’ll have to go back and give that a watch with that lens. That’s interesting. 

Raymond Gonzales  04:30

Yeah, I also, I also like the Godfather to for leadership characteristics as well.

Ben Kittelson  04:40

Differently types of leadership, but yeah. 

Raymond Gonzales  04:41

Yeah, exactly!

Ben Kittelson  04:44

All right, my last lightning round question for you: Where do you go for inspiration?

Raymond Gonzales  04:49

You know, I’m gonna answer this in two parts, Ben. You know, the first part is, you know, I’m an employee centric leader. And so I get my inspiration off the people that I surround myself with, one. And I, you know, now that we’re in COVID, I’ve struggled quite a bit because, you know, because I get my energy off of others, it’s hard for me to, you know, walk the floors, and, you know, have conversations with the employees in Adams County. And so, but that’s where I get my inspiration is really watching and interacting with our employees, our frontline workers. But the second part of that question is I was diagnosed with cancer in 2017, I am proud to say I’m cancer free. But during that time, you know, I would say that my faith really is what drives my inspiration to serve, you know, to continue serving. And I truly believe that I am cancer free and healed, so that I could continue the great work that we’re doing in Adams County. And so I hope that answered your question.

Ben Kittelson  06:00

Yeah, I love that. That’s beautiful. That’s a good sentiment for, for folks to take to heart. One thing I always like to ask my guests when I have folks on the on the podcast is a little about their path to local government. And so we covered a little bit in your bio, but like, for if I were to ask, how did you end up the government was sort of your path to the position you’re in now?

Raymond Gonzales  06:23

Well, I’ve always had an undeniable calling for public service, you know, dating back to my elementary school years, you know, I was one of those kids that always wanted to participate in local government, student government. And, you know, always be that voice for those that, you know, were shy, to speak up, or those that were underserved. And so that really drove my passion to stay in local government. You talked a little bit about my background, I did leave local government for a short period of time and went to the private sector. And while I appreciated the luxuries of being in the private sector, traveling all over the world, and having unlimited dollars, travel budgets and so forth, I realized that I was meant to be in local government. And so I quickly came back to local government. And that’s when I found, you know, the opportunity at Adams County, you mentioned, I’m a third generation resident, and it was great to come back to the community that I was born and raised in and and serve my community and help develop the fastest growing county in the state. And so, you know, you mentioned our population is 515,000 people, by 2040, we’ll be shy of a million. And so, you know, I’m very proud and honored to have, you know, have the ability to come back and help shape the future of the county.

Ben Kittelson  08:03

Yeah, that that tied her hometown, like that’s, that’s a that’s a rare opportunity, like in a local government career. So that’s, that’s really awesome that you, you get to come back and do that.

Raymond Gonzales  08:13

Absolutely. And I have the best job I love I love my job.

Ben Kittelson  08:18

Yeah. Well, so I want to spend the bulk of kind of our, our conversation on sort of, you know, we’re a year out from, from the COVID-19, sort of pandemic declaration, and talking about the response in Adams County. But one of the things as we were prepping for this is your your staffs in a bio. And one of the things one of your proudest achievements was a newly dedicated people and services people and cultural services department. And so just before we get into kind of maybe the most of the rest of our conversation, can you tell us a little bit about that and kind of, you know, what is it and I think one of the things in the write up was that it’s about empowering employees. So can you Yeah, what is, what is that department and kind of what’s the reforming of it that you’re proud of?

Raymond Gonzales  09:01

Absolutely, so in local government, you have your traditional human resources department that really over looks, you know, your traditional HR functions, correct. You know, and so, I look at things a little different. And, you know, one of the things that I’m most proud of is, you know, when I became the county manager, one of the first things I did was get rid of the human resources department, and I transformed it into a core service area called people and culture services. And so I split it into two departments. I have a director of people that really focuses on your traditional HR functions like employee relations, you know, benefits, wellness programs, and that aspect of it and then the other aspect is really the director of culture. Who really focuses on talent, attraction, talent development, and, you know, and diversity, equity, and inclusivity. And so by really elevating these two areas, you know, it has allowed us to really focus on the two most important assets of an organization, its people, and the culture of the organization. And so since 2017, we have made significant strides towards achieving some pretty amazing outcomes. When I first came on board, you know, we, we were not doing well, in terms of employee morale. But today, the latest results 91% of my employee base recommends Adams County as a place to work. That’s huge, because when we started back in 2016-2017, you know, we were like 30% 30-40%, would recommend and so, I have put a lot of focus on investing in our team and in our employees. And it’s showing I mean, our results have skyrocketed in terms of performance. And, and so I really am an employee centric leader. And, you know, we do everything to support our employees so that they have the tools to be successful in doing their jobs. Another important aspect of it is, you know, our vision statement in Adams County is to be the most inclusive and innovative county in America for all families and businesses. And so there are two important words in that vision statement, innovation, and inclusiveness, or inclusive. And, you know, specifically talking about being innovative, you know, I’ve established an, we’ve established an innovation fund in this county where employees can submit innovative projects, and it goes through a whole evaluation, panel and interview process. And these projects are funded, and it just has to be related to improving you know, their internal processes or, or work, you know, and I’ll give you another example of being innovative. We just received an award from the National Association of Counties and for our gravel road program, we have over 1700 miles of gravel road in eastern Adams County. And when I first came on board, the county was only appropriating about $50,000, towards gravel road maintenance, and our public works department, specifically, our Public Works manager came to the senior leadership team and said, Look, we want to be innovative, we want to create our own gravel road mix and are you okay with that, and we said, Absolutely. And so as a result of that, our team, after failing, you know, six or seven times they, they nailed it on the eighth time. And now we’re investing, you know, 3, 3 million a year, for a total of five years, and we will have resurfaced all 1700 miles of gravel road using this, this mix, that now has reduced maintenance to one to, either one or two times a year. And if you’re in local government, maintaining gravel roads is pretty costly. And and you’re doing it at least, you know, once a week or twice a month, you know, and for us to be able to apply this new gravel road mix and reduce that, we’re already starting to see a return on our investment. So now we have every rural county in America wanting that secret ingredient. And, you know, we’ve hosted the countries of Peru and Africa, who are also interested in this gravel road mix. And so I’m proud to say we’re well over three years in terms of resurfacing, but we’ll have invested $15 million into our gravel road system. And, you know, when I first came on board those residents out in the eastern area where we’re so upset, we pay taxes, and yet our gravel roads, you can’t even drive them, drive on them. Now, the story has changed. And they’re posting, you know, Facebook posts of their children learning how to ride a bike on their gravel roads because they were not able to do that before. And so we have this huge you know, I mean people are just so excited that we were paying attention to this. And that’s, that’s the part of innovation that I want to talk about because we empower our employees to be innovative. I don’t, I am not one to believe that you need a one person, the Chief Innovation Officer leading innovation in the organization. What we’ve done different in Adams County, is we require being innovative and inclusive, is a requirement in every single job description in Adams County. So it’s everyone’s responsibility to be innovative.

Ben Kittelson  15:36

Well, and to your point, like, by establishing that culture and that acceptance of like new ideas, you’re going to get, you know, ideas that like a chief innovation officer would have, wouldn’t have thought of like, like a different gravel mix for rural roads, right? Like, that’s, that’s really cool.

Raymond Gonzales  15:51

And And honestly, you know, I found I’ve been involved in local government for over 22 years. And, you know, when you have someone leading something that’s really hard for them to follow, right. And you need to find ways to empower your employee base to get behind whether whatever initiative you’re trying to execute.

Ben Kittelson  16:14

So I love that idea of elevating not only the traditional HR function, but the like, culture driving function, how did like, in your kind of setup of the, you know, the two departments, how did you, what was the work plan for, like, adjusting culture? That’s not, I don’t know, that’s, that’s kind of a new thing. Like, what what did you kind of assign them to do? And what were kind of some of the stuff that they were tasked with?

Raymond Gonzales  16:34

Yeah, so I will have to tell you a little bit of history about Adams County, and, you know, we have kind of transformed as an organization, because, you know, had you asked me to come work for Adams County, you know, prior to 2012, I probably would have said, No, it was known as a corrupt government. You know, we had some, you know, embezzlement, you know, and only because of the, the organizational structure and the way it was, you know, in Colorado at that time, you know, the state statute allowed, you know, a set of Board of County Commissioners to really manage the day to day operations of the county. And so you had, you know, directors that had employment contracts that worked directly for the county commissioners, and, and, you know, this works. I’m not, I’m not criticizing the organizational structure, because it does work in some other counties. But in Adams County, it really got folks into trouble because of the lack of transparency. We had, you know, county commissioners giving direction to staff, you know to snow plow certain roads, to pave certain things, and on county dime, and you just can’t do that in local government. And so, you know, the board, went to the Board of County Commissioners went to the voters and asked to increase, you know, from three to five county commissioners, and the voters approved it. And then, you know, that same board changed the, you know, government structure to a strong county manager form of government, and put in place a code of ethics, an independent ethics officer to, you know, a transparency portal. And so we’ve been at this, really trying to change our image and our brand, and reputation. And now we’re known as one of the models in the state. In 2019, I was, you know, voted by my peers. I was the 2019, City County Manager of the Year by the City and County, Colorado City County Management Association. You know, I was the first county manager to ever receive that award, because we are outnumbered by city manager, there are far more city managers that are county managers. And so, it was such an honor, but our work is still continuing in this effort. Because, you know, we are really trying to change that, that image and brand and so, like I said, Now, we’re, we’re known as a model, But to answer your questions specifically, you know, um, you know, in order to change that reputation and model, you have to, you have to have your employees I have 2500 employees in the county, I needed every single one of them to help me change our reputation. And so, you know, when when we created this new culture, people and cultures core service area, it was about them, and I wanted them to feel proud to wear that Adams County badge and I asked them to help with that. And so we put together a whole strategic plan around, you know, what we’re going to do to help us, you know, empower employees. And honestly, it was coming up with a set of core values that really drive the behavior of our organization. And we spend a lot of time, you know, in orientation, really, you know, teaching those core values, you know, and changing our hiring practices Ben, I mean, it is really important that, you know, I’m a firm believer that if you want to work for Adams County, we have to be a good fit for each other. And, and so I hire on cultural fit. And that outweighs more than the skills that they bring, because I truly believe that we could train any employee if there’s any lack in skills that they have. And but if they’re a good cultural fit, they’re going to succeed. And, and so that’s my area of focus, I, I look at things a little different. I’m your non traditional county manager. And, you know, I don’t believe in an annual performance review, Ben. I about out everyone in the entire organization, because last year, I said, we’re doing away with annual performance reviews, everyone in this organization is going to get a 3.5% merit increase. And yes, we did that merit increase during the pandemic. And we have changed to partner, Partnering for success program that is really coaching, I want my managers and supervisors to, you know, have frequent contact with their employees, two to three times a month, I want them to coach them, I want them to establish a learning development plan. And that’s how we’re evaluating performance. And I’ve changed that and which was huge, you know, because I have, you know, one of my director of people is the traditional HR director, and yeah, she was like, are you sure you want to do this? I said, Absolutely. And she goes, What, Ray, can ask your question? I said, Sure. She goes, What is your issue with annual performance reviews? I said, Because employees are evaluated, the six weeks prior, you know, to that annual performance review, and everything else is ignored. And if there are any performance issues, or if they are doing an excellent job, we are not, we should be providing on this spot, you know, recognition. And that is also part of our Partnering for Success Program is on the spot recognition. And I want to look at instead of doing an annual merit based increase, I want to do it quarterly, I think employees will really like receiving, even if it’s a 1% increase, you know, each quarter, I think that really will drive that that necessary change in performance, and they’re going to feel valued, and they’re going to continue working hard. And so, you know, to answer your question, yes, we had a strategic plan that we’re continuing to implement and adding, it’s a living document, and we continue to learn. And, and we’re a learning organization. And that’s what it’s all about. I’ve invested a lot of money in our learning development program, where every employee in Adams County, depending on the job classification, you’re required to take, either, you know, 30, to 80, continuing education courses. And so we’ve, we’ve established a little University within our organization. We have a quarterly catalog that goes out, and they have to sign up for ongoing learning opportunities. 

Ben Kittelson  24:01

Yeah, I love that. Yeah, separating the annual merit increase from the performance review mix is like one of my hobby horses as well. And making it you know, you’re totally right, if you only do it, if you only require an annual review, then that’s kind of all that folks are giving but if you you know encourage and require folks to and managers to interact with their staff more frequently, then that’s what they’ll do. Right? Like, so. Yeah, I’m, that’s great. I’m just out of curiosity. So the, that kind of stuff that you were just talking about, Very HR heavy, very culture heavy. That’s not typically like part of the traditional city manager, like, I don’t know, worldview or experienced, like, Where did you kind of learn that that’s what you wanted to do, or, or, you know, this, this amount of time, we want to like implement training for, this required training for these different levels. Like, was that something that like, Where did that come from? Like, how did you kind of come to realize that that would be an important thing for you to emphasize from the county manager’s role?

Raymond Gonzales  25:00

So I, I mean, if you look at my background, I’m an I have 22 years of experience in local governments, either local state or federal government. And I just have always had a passion for leadership development. And in this area, and if you look at my resume, I’ve always, pretty much have worked for organizations, not all of them are. But for example, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, I was on the governor’s cabinet. And, you know, that state agency, they were at a crossroads, they had been failing federal performance measures for 22 years in a row, the governor had received a letter from the secretary, the US Department of Labor Secretary saying that we’re going to basically receive a receivership money or letter saying, we’re going to take this, you know, $80 million, that we give you away if you do not meet federal performance measures. And so, you know, I was asked to join the governor’s cabinet, and I spent, you know, a good year, really diving in, and when you’re, you know, in the state of New Mexico, when you’re an appointee, and you are on the governor’s cabinet, you know, you’re just looked at, as I’m trying to think of, it’s just really strange. They really are. They’re, they’re, they’re not elected because I wasn’t elected but their point of appointments, appointees, I should say. And so, the first six weeks on the job, you know, the governor was in the newspaper, because there was about a four hour wait time when someone was trying to apply for unemployment insurance claims. So do you know what I did the first six weeks on the job? I took customer service claims, I mapped out the process, and I was a cabinet secretary. And that was the first time in New Mexico Department of Labor’s history that any Secretary of Labor stepped foot on that floor, let alone I was sitting in the unit with customer service reps taking customer service claims over the phone, because I needed to understand the process in order for us to fix it. And that’s just what I do. I’m and I just have this passion to go in, and roll up my sleeves and figure this out. And, you know, it’s part of organizational change and development I mean that’s just something that I, I love, you know, maybe when I retire, that maybe they’ll teach a class or write a book. But it’s just something that I am very passionate about. And I must say that we we finally, you know, after, you know, 12 months at it, you know, the state had for the first time in history had passed federal performance measures.

Ben Kittelson  28:19

Very cool. Well, I will pre order that book, The moment the link is available. So just I think that’s a great idea for retirement life. Awesome. So I think we could keep talking about that. But I also wanted to cover kind of some of your, the COVID-19 response in Adams County. So we’ll switch gears a little bit, but we’ll make sure to, to link to some of the stuff you mentioned in the Notes for this episode. So it was kind of interesting, as we were setting this up, I realized it had been, you know, this month of March 2021 marks a year into into the COVID-19 pandemic. So it’s good timing to kind of look back on, on what went well, and talk about maybe, you know, how things went and Adams county and, and what kind of unique things you’ve done. And then, you know, what, what you think the future will be and kind of as we’re slowly emerge out of this, but I guess the first to kind of go back in time that those first few weeks, kind of, you know, in March of 2020, what were they like in Adams County? What was how did how was what was that initial response to the pandemic like?

Raymond Gonzales  29:25

you know, it’s funny, you mentioned this because I was reflecting about this over the weekend. And only because we are now dealing with what I would say a natural disaster, and that is, you know, 18 to 20 inches of snow, really, you know, makes it hard for us to you know, operate and so I’ll never forget the decision. I was one of the first I actually I was the first county to close The county in the state of Colorado and I got lots of criticism for doing that. But the one thing that I’ve learned is that whether you’re facing a natural disaster or a pandemic, what people need and are looking for is strong leaders, leaders that are not afraid to make decisions. And that’s what I went in. I went in making a decision. And I made that decision to close county operations. And I’ll never forget because, you know, for example, we service one department alone, we service up to 1000 customers a day. And, you know, my first reaction was like, you know, once I made that decision, they were the next priority, how are we going to continue to serve those customers that need cash assistance, food assistance, assistance, and so forth? And so, um, you know, any lessons learned? You know, I would say that, you know, now that I look at it, one of the big things that stood out is that we were not prepared for this pandemic, from an IT perspective. And I will tell you, you know, we, our computer replacement policy, we weren’t purchasing laptops. But I’ll tell you now, we changed that policy. Yeah, we had, we had to rent, we were the first local government agency to rent over 1000 laptops, so that we could stand up close to 1000 home based offices so that we could continue servicing our residents. And we did that the day after I decided to close the county. And I am so proud of our IT department for for, for really thinking of this solution. But now we’ve changed that. So that is one lesson learned. And I would advise that any local government official or our city or county manager, look at your computer replacement policy, and start purchasing laptops.

Ben Kittelson  32:10

Yeah, that’s a that’s an easy change from lesson learned for this.

Raymond Gonzales  32:14

Right. Amen. Yes, so, but it’s something that we’ve, we’ve since changed, and we are now purchasing laptops.

Ben Kittelson  32:25

So it’s interesting, we’ve done a fair number of episodes kind of on the the response to COVID-19, and kind of the impacts that, to different aspects of government. And it seems like thinking about kind of counties, as you know, compared to cities is that there, there’s kind of two to two impacts of the pandemic on counties and that, like, You both have to figure out how to continue operations, but then for a lot of the services that counties provided the pandemic and the resulting economic fallout, led to like a spike in in service demand. And so, I don’t know, I don’t know the best way to frame this, but like, what, what was kind of what was that, like, in Adams County, going through kind of both sides of that, because you’re cause you’re right there, there’s kind of getting everybody laptops and making sure we can still work and operate as an organization, but then, you know, if one of the things you do is, you know, distribute food stamps, and, and, you know, public health and all that good stuff, like, that’s, you know, also, you know, was was in dire need during the pandemic. So what was that, like in Adams county?

Raymond Gonzales  33:24

You know, one of the first things that we did, after we closed that weekend, we started to see some major impacts from our community. I met, you know, when you look at Adams County, just to kind of give the listeners perspective, you know, Adams County, borders, the city and county of Denver. So if you fly into Denver International Airport, you’re flying into Adams County, and we’re the fifth largest county. And so all five major highway highways intersect in Adams County. So we’re really central in the Denver Metro region. And so when you look at our demographics, 60% of our workforce was deemed essential. So they were, they had no choice but to go to work every single day, while the rest of the state was on a stay at home order working remotely, our residents had no choice but to go to work. And so I think that played a significant role in terms of our response and recovery efforts. And so with that, we immediately established seven core response and recovery teams. And, you know, when you’re when you’re trying to respond to a pandemic, or a natural disaster, you know, the role of an elected official is critical, because they want to be in the emergency management operations center. They want to be the ones like there and that’s just not their role. And so one of the things that I did immediately was, give them a role. And so I have five full time county commissioners. And I gave them a role and they championed seven response teams. And those seven response teams really were a result of trying to respond to the community. And, you know, so the first one was business support and retention, that response team really focused on providing direct assistance to our business community. We implemented many grants for small businesses, you know, technology upgrades for businesses, you know, compliance issue, one of the things that our businesses struggled with early on, was complying with local public health orders, well these dollars, helped them comply. You know, we paid for the decals for six feet, social distancing decals to you know, touchless, you know, pay systems to upgrading their websites, you know, so that people could order online. You know, and, and so, that core service team was championed by a county commissioner. And one of the things that really made us unique is that we have a strong partnership with Rocky Mountain partnership. It’s a nonprofit organization that really plays the role of a neutral backbone in terms of a collective impact model. So this organization is strategic, they already have over three to 500 partners convened. And so I called on them to help facilitate these response teams. And they served and they did an outstanding job, and they continue to do an outstanding job. And so with them serving as the backbone, they already had nonprofit community leaders already convened. And we you know, some of these response team consists of over 100 people, 100 partners at the table, putting everything they had to respond to the needs of our community. And so that first one was really about business support and retention. The second one was about aging adult services, we have 65,000 aging adults in Adams County. And when you look at our demographics, you know, some of them were, were sheltering in place in isolation, you know, you they started getting depressed, and they didn’t have the resources to leave, you know, their place of residence to go pick up their prescriptions. And so, this core service, or this response and recovery team, focused on implementing programs to meet the needs of our senior population. One in particular is a well elder program, where we establish a call center where they were calling our seniors to provide daily checks. Are you okay? Do you need anything delivered? Do you need groceries? Do you need your prescriptions picked up? Do you need to see a doctor? Do you? You know, and just to check in on them? Are you doing okay? You know, because, you know, a lot of them were sheltering in place and getting, there was a slight depression because they couldn’t be near their family. Some of them didn’t even have family. And so this well elder program really served as that check in point. We also provided material aid support and medical gaps support, you know, a lot of them, you know, to really assist in payment, uncovered an unanticipated medical related expenses. And so, you know, I think this response team did an outstanding job, you know, trying to come up to meet those needs of our aging adults. You know, housing stability is another response and recovery team that really focused on keeping people in their place of residence, whether they rented or, or had a mortgage. So we immediately established a emergency rental and mortgage assistance program that allowed landlords to apply on behalf of their tenants because and what we found, what we found are people who are struggling financially, they tend to shy away from applying for assistance, and we can understand this so what we did is we were one of the we were actually the first county to do this is we allowed it to that their tenant or their landlords to apply on behalf of their tenants to keep them in their place. Today, we have $25 million of demand for rental assistance in Adams county. And so we continue to make this a priority area of focus. We want people to stay in their houses to prevent homelessness. And so that is one area that we really prioritized. Another key area uninsured and health care access, we have, you know, been bordered by the city and county of Denver, you know, we have homeless population. And so getting them access to COVID tests, a rapid test was critical. So we stood up mobile testing units throughout the county, we tested our homeless populations, and those that were uninsured regardless of whether they were a citizen or not. And, you know, because you have to remember, our vision statement is to be the most inclusive county in America for all right, I have an ethical obligation to serve everyone in my county. And so we made testing available, as well as now vaccines available. And so this focused, and I want to point something out, one of the most, the thing that I’m most proud of is that we, the state of Colorado, the governor had issued a, a, an executive order, opening an open enrollment date for those without insurance. You know, they did a special enrollment period for health insurance. And I remember these dates, clearly, it was like, March 20, through the end of the month. And this team, we wrote a letter to the governor, urging them to extend that beyond just that two week open enrollment period, because this was an opportunity for us to do a grassroots level approach and encourage those who were uninsured, to get access to health care, the state’s healthcare system and network. And so he did, he extended that for us, we went in, and honestly, as a result of that, we were able to get 14,000 coloradoans access to health care. I mean, it’s huge. Had he not done that extended it for a 30 day period. And that was 14 more 1000 coloradoans now have access to health care. And that is the role of a county commissioner being the champion, that’s the role of an elected official when you give them that ability there to remove barriers. And, and that’s that’s the difference. And so if you’re a city or county manager, you know, figuring out a role of an elected official is critical in a pandemic response, or even a disaster, local disaster. Moving on, unemployed and workforce support. This one I’m most proud of as well, is that we established a left behind worker fund, you know, for those residents who did not qualify for federal unemployment insurance benefits. So it was critical. And we continue to support this. We also established a low wage worker fund so that our service industry workers who are you know, for example, if you’re, you know, a waitstaff at a local restaurant, and you know, there was this fear of being tested, getting or being tested positive, and then not having anywhere to go because they could not be without, they could not quarantine for 12 days, and I mean, they, they relied on that paycheck to help pay rent. And what we did is we established that little waker worker fund, and we would pay for lost wages due to mandatory quarantine if they tested positive, so that, you know, they could go back and return to work. childcare was a critical, this one, really spend a lot of time about learning voice and perspective for our childcare providers, whether their child home based providers, or else, we did assessments, and we really supplied, you know, all the necessary PPE to the child care because it was critical for our first responders that they had adequate child care in order to respond to the pandemic. And then, you know, the last one is really food security and basic essentials. We invested millions of dollars into providing meals to low income families in Adams County, one school district alone was providing 14,000 meals a day. So this area we really supported and partnered with our food pantries in our school districts and so every, we have nine school districts in Adams County, every single one of them provided meals daily to not just students but their entire family so that they have full meals to go to. So you know that kind of gives you an overview of how We responded to COVID in Adams County.

Ben Kittelson  45:04

Yeah. and engage the elected officials too. That’s so like smart to give them. You know, here’s something that you can kind of own and then like, be the that barrier Buster to kind of like getting stuff done. That’s, that’s like such a smart way to do that. I’m just curious, the topic areas Was that something like, hey, at the beginning of this pandemic, we figured out all seven, and we knew it was gonna be or did that kind of like emerge as you guys were going through?

Raymond Gonzales  45:32

I honestly, and I, mean, I want to tell you, I mean, I came up with those seven, based on what I was seeing in the community. Would I come up with them today? Yes. But we decided as a team, just to stick with them. And, you know, there’s a lot of overlap between the, between all seven, which is okay. But what it did was it allowed, you know, elected officials to work together in partnership. And honestly, my county commissioners, all I mean have an interest in all seven areas. So it’s really hard for them to stick to one and they really want it to be active in in this entire process, which they were.

Ben Kittelson  46:14

Yeah, yeah. And how much of that some of those topic areas seem like traditional, like accounting functions, and others seem like kind of new areas. So how much of the kind of response was like, we got to just figure this out, and you know, that this is the first time we’ve been engaging with businesses, but we got to figure out a way to help them in this, you know, pandemic, how much of it was like kind of that just brand new stuff versus like, we have a small program that’s already in place that maybe we just need to emphasize, during the pandemic?

Raymond Gonzales  46:42

You know, I think if there’s one that stood out is the business support. in that historically, counties don’t offer that significant financial assistance to the business. Yeah, so that was new for us. But you know, given that I have a strong economic development team, my background is also an economic development and so you know, it was critical. Going into this pandemic, we were number one in job growth Ben. Out of 300 largest counties in the US, I mean, we were number one in job growth. So my focus right now is staying in the top five in the nation of job growth and so we’re not slowing down. I told my team we’re investing, we’re investing in capital infrastructure, we never stopped, we’ve never slowed down, because our job is to do is to generate new jobs by investing in our local economy. And so that has been a priority of mine. And, and so, you know, the business aspect of it was new to us. But, you know, one of the things that we learned early on is that in Colorado, we did not have the ability to, to register businesses or even license them. And and so as a result, during this past, or during this current legislative process, we worked with our local delegation to pass a or to pass legislation that allows counties to require registration. And I’m not, I’m not talking about adding or collecting licensing fees or even licensing businesses, but what we recognize is because we didn’t have a list of businesses. And so we changed that so that we could, I mean, we were relying on social media, knocking on doors and so forth. But if we have legislation that allowed us to register, all we’re asking us for, you know, name, address, contact, and that’s it, you know, that we can have a way to communicate. And so that legislation passed in the state this couple of weeks ago, so I’m very proud because that was one area that kind of slowed us down in terms of responding to our business community.

Ben Kittelson  49:08

Yeah, yeah. When I was in the city of Durham before my current job, the way that the state had taken away that ability for cities to do that, and so you just didn’t have a list of like, who was in your community doing business and so it makes it so much harder to engage. That’s, that’s a good hopefully, hopefully, that’ll that’ll help you guys down the road. Um, so this is fascinating. I love the different teams and like the responses, I mean, you guys are relied on your feet and were able to do a bunch of different stuff. On the like testing and vaccine rollout front, what was, how has that gone in Adams County and kind of what what’s been the county’s approach there?

Raymond Gonzales  49:47

Absolutely. A great question. Early on, we partnered with the Governor’s Office of the State, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, we established a mass super testing site at Waterworld, which is in Adams county. And it’s actually, you know, we use their parking lot. And we were testing 4000 residents a day. And I’m proud to say that we played a key role in testing in the state, because our testing site tested nearly 400,000 people in Colorado. And in addition to that, on a smaller scale, we partnered with advanced urgent care for mobile testing. And we went into neighborhoods that did not have access to health care, and even our homeless populations. And we were able to use that mobile testing unit to test and so even with that, mobile testing, we we tested a significant amount of residents and we continue to test folks, through the end of this month, we’re re evaluating whether or not we will continue testing. But our focus now has been on vaccination clinics. And so and again, that is a priority for us. And so we’ve established a ongoing vaccination clinic at our government center that has the capacity to vaccinate 2000 people a day. And we have also really focused on what we’re considering are calling pop up vaccination clinics. And this is very unique, because if you look at our demographics, less than 1% of our Latino population has been vaccinated. And there are a lot of, you know, concerns with that, given that we have a 40% Latino population. And, and so what we’ve done to strategize is the governor has set aside 15%, 15% allocation to really focus on equity distribution, and focus on those high risk communities, and those and people of color neighborhoods. And so we’re taking that distribution, and applying and asking for and hosting a series of pop up vaccination clinics in neighborhoods, we’re partnering with community faith based leaders and churches and, and, and, and doing 5 to 1000 vaccines a day. And, and, and we’re doing that we’re booked the whole month of March and April and into May. And so that has been a strategy that we’re doing in Adams County that has really been successful. And, you know, in engaging the community, faith based organizations in this is critical, because, you know, right now, there are a lot of myths around the vaccine. And, and so we needed to create a space where our residents felt safe. And, you know, they rely on their local faith based organization leaders to help them make these decisions. Do you know what I’m saying? And so, but it’s been a huge success for us. And so, right now, I just in the process of planning, one for our ag industry, and so we’re going to be vaccinated and all of our farm workers in the next couple of weeks, and it’s pretty amazing how the ag industry in Adams County has come together to rally behind this, that we can vaccinate, you know, over 1000, folks.

Ben Kittelson  53:43

Wow, wow. Yeah, that’s, that’s awesome. And like, if you’re going to take into account, you know, both equity of like, who’s getting the vaccines? And, you know, and making sure that folks, yeah, you know what to do, and they feel comfortable doing it, and they feel like they’re in a trusted place, like partnering with those local organizations makes so much sense. I kind of wonder if one of the lessons learned out of all of this will be that, you know local governments should do more of that further, you know, services generally, rather than kind of, like, you know, setting up a central site or setting up a website and saying, you know, come to us, but being more, you know, proactive about going out and partnering with those community institutions and partnering with specific neighborhoods to like, reach those those places to ensure kind of a more equitable rollout of, you know, not just, you know, vaccine as a service, but like our, you know, General county services and city services down the line.

Raymond Gonzales  54:39

Yeah, so one of the things that I failed to mention Ben is, you know, we’re also looking at local influence influencers, to really talk about the importance of the vaccine, and, you know, because, you know, a lot of our residents look to these influencers as leaders and so you know, if If these influencers can, and I’m talking about like local radio hosts, or TV anchors, or news anchors, and so forth, and if they’re willing to, you know, capture you know, themselves on video receiving the COVID vaccine, and then talking about the importance of the vaccine, it really helps us try to educate. We’re also doing a series of education forums prior to these vaccine clinics. And so, for example, we have a huge among population in Adams County. And so we’re gonna have a panel of folks and leaders from that community serve on this, this guest panel to talk about the importance of the vaccine. And so they’re hearing, you know, from leaders in their own community. And and we’ll do that, you know, two weeks before we host a vaccine event, and that is, I mean, that is a best practice. And I would encourage any listener to do that.

Ben Kittelson  56:06

So I read kind of, you know, in prepping for this interview about kind of the the CARES Act funding and how y’all were able to distribute that some of the cities in Adams County, um, so I guess maybe I want to ask this in two parts can can, can you give us maybe a quick overview of what what you guys kind of did on that front? And then with the the new COVID relief bill that was passed by the federal government, the American Recovery Act? Is that right? Or, yeah, American recovery of something? Do you think there’ll be more funding coming in, and we’ll kind of that, that the rollout of that and distribution to that be?

Raymond Gonzales  56:40

Absolutely. So um, we received a little over $90 million of CARES Act funding. And within within two weeks of receiving that cares Act funding, we immediately distributed 40, distributed 45% of that to our local municipalities. And we have 10 cities that reside in Adams County. And so through partnerships with the city managers, we established an IGA between Adams County and each city, and we rolled out nearly $34 million to our local municipalities. In addition to that, we also partnered with all of our school districts, and so we provided about $22 million to over nine school districts in Adams County. We invested significantly in public health. We also have a lot of independent fire districts in our county. And so we provid funding to our fire districts. And then we really put about $20 million towards our response and recovery efforts. And so that was direct aid to our residents. And then at the county, we only spent about $4 million of that $90 million on county operations. And so, you know, and all of this was within the allowed uses under, you know, the Treasury’s guidance. And so we immediately established a CARES Oversight Committee. And we hired an outside independent audit firm, to make sure that every single dollar cares act dollar was being spent in accordance with federal guidelines. And which was critical that we did that immediately. And so you mentioned in earlier in my introduction that I serve on the international city county management Association’s Executive Committee, I interact with lots of cities and counties all over the US. And one in particular in Florida, the county said, and this was back in September of last year. And keep in mind, we received the cares act allocation in May of last year. It was Oct- I want to say it was either September, I think the timeframe was they hadn’t even received an allocation yet from their state. And so I was just floored at, you know, I and at that time, CARES Act funding has to be fully expended by December 31. Do you know what I’m saying? So how will one comm- that’s impossible for a community to roll out this funding. And so I’m very fortunate to have this five county commissioners who didn’t waste any time and supported, you know, the allocation to our cities and towns. With this new legislation and relief package that’s coming our way. We’re anticipating $101 million dollars of additional funding from the feds and we will we this CARES, you know, this oversight committee continues to talk about you know, the need and prioritizing And so, you know, we meet on a regular basis and talk about what what are those needs. But I mentioned to you that we’ve identified 25 million in rental assistance need in our county. And so we’re really going to focus on keeping people in their homes. I think that’s the key. We want to prevent foreclosures, we want to prevent evictions, and really try to weather this economic downturn as a result of this pandemic. And so that’s, you know, there’s still more analysis to be made to determine how we’re going to use that 101 million, but I will tell you, we also are collected data. So every dollar spent, we actually have, you know, a number of residents that have received this and so that we can start showing, you know, outcomes to our federal delegation as a result of, you know, our hard work in Adams County.

Ben Kittelson  1:01:03

Yeah, that’s smart doing that, like, story and not storytelling, but the story, the reporting piece with Yeah, kind of rollout. And so you have that, as you’re going through it. Alright, so we’ll kind of end with like, maybe another two part question. So what kind of organizational changes that you had that have come about because of the pandemic? You know, the remote work, like, dress code, of the those changes, what do you think will stick? And then what do you think some of the challenges are, that we’ll still be dealing with, as we kind of, you know, further roll out vaccines and kind of slowly emerge out of the pandemic in the coming months. So, you know, what, staying from from the past year, and then what do you think will still be challenges as we as we go forward?

Raymond Gonzales  1:01:48

You named one of them, I think, you know, we immediately adapted to remote working, so at 80% of my employment base is working from home today. And we’re gonna continue that, I’m going to slowly integrate, and re integrate people coming back to work. And so my goal is, you know, 50% of our organization will be back at work by April 15. You know, by May 15th, my goal is 75%. And by, you know, end of June 100%. And that is all dependent on and aligned with our vaccination schedule. Okay. And so, one of the things that, you know, I will continue is, is to allow our employees to, to, you know, work from home a couple of days a week. You know, we’re very fortunate in Adams County to have a facility sales tax, and so we have beautiful buildings. And so, you know, there’s a balance, I can’t continue to ask our voters to continue the sales tax and build beautiful buildings, if I’m going to push my employees to work from home. Right? So there’s that balance. And, you know, I have a fear, and I’ve been reading a lot, and my, my biggest fear is, you know, those employees that want to continue working from home full time. You know, I’ve had conversations with several city managers across the nation, where they’re finding out employees are actually moving states and not telling their employers that they’ve moved, because everyone’s working from home. And so, and no one had asked, and so, I my biggest fear is that we’re going to run into this, this scenario. And so and, you know, honestly, you know, that’s a topic of conversation that we’re having, amongst my executive leadership team right now. And, and so I, you know, am in favor of, you know, workplace flexibility is a core value of ours as an organization. And so, we one thing we did transition to, is a four day workweek. And so, so, but not everyone can or has the ability to transition to a four day work week, because of childcare issues, because of, you know, they’re they have little ones that are in school, doing virtual learning. And so what I’ve done was create flexibility within that four day work week schedule, to allow folks to work five, or, you know, five, eight hour days. And so that day that we’re off, which is a Monday, you know, they just work, they work from home that day, do you know what I’m saying? So that’s the type of flexibility that we’ve allowed or established and in, in this, these policies. But yeah, dress code is one. You know, schedules and remote work are all key policies that we’re gonna continue to have to address as we transition back into the workplace.

Ben Kittelson  1:05:07

What are some of the challenges you think we’ll, you know, still be dealing with as we, as we emerge out of this book, maybe organizationally, and then like kind of in the community is, as the pandemic kind of comes to an end?

Raymond Gonzales  1:05:19

you know, receiving the vaccine, receiving the vaccine is a personal choice. And I think the challenges that we face as Local Government Leaders is, you know, the question of requiring vaccines for your employees. And I made a decision early on not to require, but what I’ve done is incentivize our employees. So we have a number one rated wellness program, and so it’s part of our wellness program, you get $100, if you get the flu shot every year, you get $100 if you get your blood drawn, a lot of this is pretty prevention measures that you’re taking place. And we have two health clinics on site at our employer. My goal is to be an employer of choice. And so I really, as part of our people and culture services is not only are we investing, but we’re investing in wellness. So financial, emotional, mental, and physical well being is critical to our employees. And so they could go to one of our health care clinics, not pay have to pay a copay, and a majority of the prescriptions if needed are free. And so what I’ve done is incentivize the vaccine. So they’ll get $200 if they receive the vaccine, and it’s it’s a personal choice, and that personal choice is up to them. And but I’ve incorporated as part of our wellness program. And so I think the challenge is going to be is those that make this the decision not to get the vaccine, whether or not they come back and feel comfortable coming back and integrating into the workplace.

Ben Kittelson  1:06:58

Awesome. Well, this has been a great conversation. And it’s been fascinating to learn kind of more about the COVID-19 response. And then some of your, your, your, your philosophy and management. We have a traditional last question on Gov love. So if you could be whatGov Love DJ, what song would you pick as your exit music for this episode?

Raymond Gonzales  1:07:18

Oh, that’s a tough question. But I you know, because there’s so many songs, and I have often wondered if, you know, if I played Major League Baseball, what would my walkup song be? Yeah. But you have asked, What’s your exit music for this, this be? You know, so I’m a huge fan of the killers and so. So any song, but, you know, the one that comes to mind is, when you were young. It’s probably the one that kind of describes and that’s the song I’d probably pick only because I’m a huge fan of the killers, and I love their music..

Ben Kittelson  1:08:04

Perfect. We will have to get back to you that that that ends our episode for today. Raymond, thank you so much for coming on and talking with me. I really appreciate you taking the time sharing your expertise and everything that’s happened in Adams County.

Raymond Gonzales  1:08:18

Oh, well, thank you. I appreciate spending, you know, the past hour with you. And I look forward to doing this again.

Ben Kittelson  1:08:29

yeah, we’ll have to have you back soon to learn more. There’s lots of lots of lots of stuff we didn’t get to. So for our listeners, Gov Love is brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders, you can reach us online can ELGL.org/GovLove or on twitter at the handle @GovLovePodcast. The best way to support Gov Love is by joining ELGL. Membership is $50 for an individual and $25 for students, or you can sign up your whole organization. Subscribe to Gov Love on your favorite podcast app. And if you’re already subscribed, go tell a friend or colleague about this podcast. help us spread the word that Gov Love is the go to place for local government stories. And with that, thank you for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.

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