Ecker solicits volunteer experts to help with county work

December 08, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker hopes to make government work the busman's holiday of choice for local experts willing to give freely of their labor.

"We need a way we can get some expert help to do some things we wouldn't be able to do" with the present staff, he said.

It's not that the present staff doesn't have the needed talent, skills, and expertise, he said; it's that there is not enough of it to go around. The county has had to scale back departments and leave positions unfilled because of the recession.

"People in this county want to help," Mr. Ecker said. He has asked Gail Bates, an administrative assistant, to come up with a way to find them.

"Some have expertise we couldn't afford even in good times," he said. "And it's going to be years before we feel any significant effect of movement in the economy."

To do what Mr. Ecker asked, Ms. Bates needed a computer software program that would produce a list of volunteers wanting to do a particular job at a particular time in a particular place.

The program would also have to allow users to create volunteer opportunities for themselves at specific times and places.

When she could not find such a program, Ms. Bates ran an ad asking computer experts to volunteer to design one.

"I received about 50 resumes from computer hackers anxious to work on such a project," Ms. Bates said. From that list, she chose six people who have been working together nights to develop the program.

The software should be available to county departments after the first of the year.

AThe ultimate goal, Ms. Bates said, will be for the software to be installed on county library computers and used by everyone wanting or offering assistance.

In theory, the program would produce the names of volunteers for just about everything. Initially, however, the program will be used to match volunteers with unfilled jobs in county government.

The program is not intended to cut the budget by replacing paid workers with volunteers, Mr. Ecker said.

"This is intended to help people who are already here. County employees have been tremendous. . . . I think they will really welcome this with open arms."

Ms. Bates canvassed department heads to find out how they would use the volunteers.

They responded with a specialized list:

* The buildings and grounds office wants gardeners, a master electrician, a journeyman carpenter, a master plumber, and a heating, ventilation and air conditioning mechanic to build a storage shed that would safeguard furniture donated to help the homeless.

* The Public Works Department wants a civil engineer with computer experience to do a storm water management study. It also wants help cleaning up highways, conducting traffic

studies, and cleaning and restoring streams.

* The Planning and Zoning Department wants technical writers who will help answer questions and prepare drafts of things like the new subdivision regulations.

* The Health Department wants people who can develop training programs and help clients get through the maze of paperwork at various clinics.

* The Corrections Department wants people willing to interview offenders in the parole and probation office and work as caseload assistants. It also wants help with filing.

* Juvenile Services wants a receptionist, child advocates, mentors, tutors, and people willing to be on call for special events.

* The Community Action Council wants help with the food bankthe head start program, and public relations.

* The Finance Department wants clerical workers to process receipts, do studies, and prepare reports on the 25 largest taxpayers. It also wants help with filing, sorting, and opening the mail.

* The Purchasing Department wants researchers to discover where the county can buy recycled products.

Ms. Bates will begin receiving names of volunteers to fill these positions as soon as the software program is entered into the county's computer.

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