Nevada County CEO Alison Lehman looks toward collaboration in achieving goals
November 6, 2018
Alison Lehman, CEO of Nevada County, attended her first government meeting in elementary school.
Both her parents worked in the public sector and regularly attended various board and committee meetings. Lehman would go with them, and at an early age learned the value of volunteering.
“It’s not unusual to find me at community meetings with my own children,” said Lehman, 44.
The assistant CEO for about six years, Lehman took the county’s top administrative spot in September. She succeeded Rick Haffey, who served in the position for about 15 years. Haffey recommended Lehman for the job, and the Board of Supervisors appointed her unanimously.
“Alison is a consummate executive,” Supervisor Heidi Hall said in an email. “She is extremely responsive and leads the way for county staff with creative problem solving. She works directly with community leaders to get their input, including city leaders, in order to anticipate conflicts and be proactive in finding solutions.”
Sitting in her office on the second floor of the Eric Rood Administrative Center, Lehman emphasized the importance of being part of a community. She said understanding different perspectives on issues is healthy.
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“We’re a small community,” she said. “Relationships are important to tackle the hard issues.”
Lehman pointed to housing, homelessness and cannabis as looming issues.
Discussing housing, Lehman said the county must work with the cities to achieve the goal of drawing affordable housing here. Leaders must know what barriers exist to that goal, like the need for infrastructure, if they’re to achieve it.
“It’s not just sewer and water,” she said, pointing to high-speed internet access.
County officials support the proposed purchase of the Bright Fiber high-speed internet project by Race Communications. That sale currently is suspended by the California Public Utilities Commission until at least Nov. 19.
Concerning homelessness, Lehman said the county has experienced difficulties finding a location for its 24/7 navigation center. That facility, once opened, would provide services for the homeless.
As with the issue of affordable housing, some people oppose the navigation center. Lehman said there’s a concern it will impact local businesses.
“I believe that community engagement is healthy,” she said.
Lehman said her role is to implement the policy that supervisors dictate. Supervisors each January set their priorities for the year and rank their importance.
Creating cannabis regulations is a top priority for this year, as is placing a cannabis tax measure on the ballot.
Nevada County voters will decide the latter today at the polls when they cast ballots on Measure G.
Lehman plans on following today’s cannabis tax measure with a permanent grow ordinance by spring.
“Alison has approached cannabis regulation with pragmatism and balance,” said Diana Gamzon, executive director of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, in an email. “Under her leadership, cannabis permitting has become a reality and we look forward to continued collaboration between the county and the alliance.”
Lehman started her career with Nevada County in 2001 as a program manager for the Health & Human Services Agency. In that position she administered federal grants, focused on long-term care and worked toward keeping seniors in their homes.
Lehman worked as a program manager in Truckee for two years before returning to western Nevada County as the Public Health Department’s interim director. She followed that with a stint as director of the Social Services Department.
Lehman said these positions gave her insight into the complexity of government, and helped her better understand its regulations.
Six years ago Lehman stepped into the job of assistant CEO. In that position she worked with department heads. She also assisted the CEO and supervisors with implementing the board’s policies.
Mali Dyck, formerly the interim Human Resources director and interim deputy CEO, became assistant CEO on Monday.
“I am excited to continue working with Alison as CEO and on the county’s executive team as I step into the role of assistant CEO,” Dyck said in an email. “Alison has a great vision and ability to drive the county forward on board priorities. I’m looking forward to learning from her as I step into the role she held prior to becoming CEO, and helping to execute her vision for transparency and community engagement as an important part of the governing process.”
Lehman approaches the challenges of her office with the community in mind. She said local government is the closest connection people have with their government. They have the best chance to influence government policy at the local level.
“It starts with good information and accurate information and having a process that’s transparent,” she said.
Lehman saw that connection in elementary school, as well as high school and college. She administered micro-grants for a youth commission in high school, and worked with a business and visitor’s bureau after graduation.
“That’s really what brought me focus of getting things done at a local level,” Lehman said.
To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.