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Nick Odenath, VCLA Cohort XXVI
President, Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs' Association
I found this VCLA session of particular interest. The focus of this session was on public safety in Ventura County. You might be asking yourself why is this a session Nick was looking forward too since he has spent the last 19 years in public safety. Although, it is true, I have spent most of my adult life as a deputy sheriff in Ventura County and have a good sense of the work that is being done. However, what I have learned about VCLA is these sessions are not simply designed to
educate cohort members on the general topic of the day, but rather challenge you to think about the many facets of the respective topic and how it impacts the community in which we live and serve in one respect or another. In addition, VCLA affords cohort members the opportunity to engage with members of this community that you otherwise may not engage. VCLA certainly did not disappoint.
The day started with the ability to choose from several of our public safety leaders in the Ventura County. Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen, Thousand Oaks Police Chief James Fryhoff, California State University Channel Islands Lieutenant Drake Massey, Oxnard Assistant Police Chief Jason Benites and Ventura Police Chief Darin Schindler were all options for the cohort members. I opted to hear from CSUCI Lieutenant Massey during the morning session and VCFD Chief Lorenzen during the mid-morning session.
Given the COVID-19 restrictions, we met virtually with Lieutenant Massey. I was interested to hear about the issues specific to campus public safety. Lieutenant Massey explained that the campus, during normal operations, can experience an increase in population of 7,000 people on any given day. This creates logistic challenges such as parking and response times to emergencies. Given the geographic location of the campus, there is a constant concern for potential wildfires and the campus has experienced wildfires in the recent past. Lieutenant Massey talked about the work being done to improve their evacuation plan and how they are using new technology to decrease the time it takes to notify staff and students of an emergency and coordinate evacuation planning. What I found to be of most interest was CSUCI and all California State Universities’ adoption of community relations protocol. Lieutenant Massey said the California State University system has committed to the six pillars of the 2015 President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Implementation Guide (https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-announces-new-guidebook-21st-century-policing). These six pillars focus on areas that are very much in discussion throughout the United States and speak to building trust between peace officers and the communities they serve. Although this commitment is a first step, it is a step in the right direction and speaks to the essence of our role as public servants.
We were fortunate to meet VCFD Chief Lorenzen for an outdoor in-person meeting (with masks and socially distanced, of course) at their Camarillo-based training center. Chief Lorenzen talked about the challenges for VCFD and how they are addressing them. Unlike peace officer agencies, VCFD has no shortage of applicants. However, they are working on targeting a more diverse population in their recruitment efforts. Chief Lorenzen said they are actively seeking out female applicants as well as applicants of different ethnic backgrounds. Chief Lorenzen wants a fire agency that better reflects and relates the communities they serve. He, along with their leadership team are actively recruiting at colleges, universities and CrossFit gyms in the region. As a result, they are starting to see an increase in diversity among applicants. Chief Lorenzen addressed the issue of wellness among those employed with VCFD. He said that nationwide, an alarming trend has developed. There are more firefighters committing suicide than dying in the line of duty. Chief Lorenzen and his staff have worked to develop a wellness plan to address this trend within the agency, including having resources such as a peer support team, training specifically regarding first responder wellness and education regarding the signs of post-traumatic stress injury.
After our lunch break, we reconvened as a cohort virtually. Each member of the cohort was able to offer some of their takeaways from their respective morning public safety sessions with our public safety leaders. I find these opportunities to share our takeaways important. Another special part about VCLA is the diverse backgrounds we bring to the discussion. I find it refreshing to hear from each of my fellow cohort members on their perspective and takeaways. It allows me to see issues from a different lens. To be clear, we do have a special cohort, I mean we are “Virtually the Best” if not the best cohort (yes, I am bias)!
During the afternoon session, we had an opportunity to hear from our public safety members that are often forgotten, our dispatchers. Specifically, we heard from Kelly Brown, Director of 2-1-1 Ventura County, Interface Children and Family Services, Dr. Jim Norris, IT Director, Ventura County Fire Department and Mallory Crosby, Dispatch Supervisor, Ventura County Fire Department. Kelly shared how COVID-19 and the restrictions have really changed the landscape for 2-1-1. Kelly said those calling the center are often in need of housing resources. Given increased unemployment and the related issues, the call center has seen an increase in calls. Kelly shared how she and her supervisors have monitored the well-being of their call takers to ensure they are taking care of themselves and also able to properly address the concerns of those calling for assistance. Currently, the 2-1-1 handles service calls for 40 of the 58 counties in California, making it the largest such call center in California.
Dr. Jim Norris and Mallory Crosby shared their experiences managing the VCFD call center. Dr. Norris shared some exciting work about improvements to the call center system that will allow information to be pushed to firefighters faster and more efficiently, as well as address mutual aid concerns and communication. Mallory shared the experience of the dispatchers she supervises and how the calls they receive can be both stressful and rewarding. Mallory said the dispatchers are often providing instructions on how to perform lifesaving CPR to family members calling during a medical emergency. She also said many of her dispatchers have had the opportunity to coach soon-to-parents through pregnancy delivery. Mallory described the bond of the dispatchers who work together as a team to help community members who are often calling during the worst moment in their life.
We ended the day having “Coffee with a Black Guy” (https://www.cwabg.com/). This was the part of the session I was most interested in listening too. Community Leader James Joyce III started “Coffee with a Black Guy” a few years ago with the goal of creating a forum in which black men and women share their experiences for better community understanding. James shared historical perspective on policing in America and talked about some of the racial ideology in which American policing was based and how those ideologies still plague communities of color today. James has a unique gift of raising questions that promote discussion. What does defund the police mean? Why aren’t the police more transparent.
Christina Tokatlian, VCLA Cohort XXVI
Forensic Scientist and Local CODIS Administrator
Ventura County Sheriff's Office
November 8, 2018 is a day I will never forget. I remember waking up that morning to go to work and the first piece of news I heard about was the horrific Borderline shooting that took place the night before and the tragic loss of twelve innocent souls, one of whom was one of our own in the VCSO family. The weight I felt in my heart was so incredibly heavy.
I was in shock that such a tragedy could occur so close to home. The grief could be felt throughout the entire department for our fallen hero and victims. Then, as if this tragedy wasn’t enough, a fire started that afternoon and spread quickly burning our county. I left work a couple of hours early to be able to get home to my family but the 101 freeway had already been blocked. It took me four hours to get from Ventura to Thousand Oaks using Santa Rosa Road. I distinctly remember as I was sitting in my car inching slowly forward in the traffic, I was watching those bright hellish flames burn against the dark evening sky, engulfing miles of hillside and all I could think to myself was: God bless the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and the Ventura County Fire Department. This overwhelming appreciation and tremendous pride was exactly what I felt in today’s VCLA session on public safety.
Given the hurdles presented by this unprecedented global pandemic, it has been so inspirational to see our community leaders working together to provide us with options to continue our education. The morning started with a variety of different options of speakers including Sheriff Bill Ayub, Thousand Oaks Police Chief James Fryhoff, Fire Chief Mike Lorenzen, Ventura Police Department Police Chief Darin Schindler, Lieutenant Drake Massey from CSUCI Campus Police or Assistant Police Chief Jason Benites from Oxnard Police Department. Each student was asked to pick two sessions and then the entire group would meet via Zoom in the afternoon to discuss the takeaways of the day. My day consisted of a Zoom session with Police Chief Fryhoff and an in-person session with Fire Chief Lorenzen.
The dominating theme from these discussions was positive and effective relationships. In speaking with Chief Fryhoff, the major issues facing the Conejo Valley (and even a lot of the other cities in our county) were vehicle thefts, residential burglaries, organized retail crime, and homelessness. Other citizen concerns also include providing threat assessment and active shooter training tools. Chief Fryhoff described a few of the amazing programs that he and his colleagues engage in such as working with the school district to put together a council including the school principal, a counselor, and a law enforcement officer. They help put together programs to allow children to step out of their comfort zone and understand one another in hopes of preventing bullying or other negative behavior. This also helps enlighten everyone to keep their eyes open for any signs of a possible shooting incident. Another wonderful program is Safe Passage. This program works with California Lutheran University and the Conejo Recreation and Park District to provide tutoring centers where children can go to for tutoring help or any other needs they may have. This ultimately helps guide them in a positive direction and has helped to bring the numbers of gang communities down. The greatest challenge today is finding virtual means of communication due to the pandemic and it is precisely these relationships that VCSO has built with its community and other communities that allow for such wonderful programs to be created and made available.
In speaking with Fire Chief Lorenzen, it was amazing to hear about the solid relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and the Fire Department in our county. Not all counties are fortunate to have this type of relationship, and it is this which has helped us through many disasters. The Fire Academy and Sheriff’s Academy share training grounds in Camarillo and they lean on each other and work in unison. Not only does the Fire Department have a solid relationship with the Sheriff’s Office, it also has a solid relationship with other county and state fire departments as well. This allows for mutual aid in times of need. The Thomas Fire was a great example of our public safety heroes coming together to help out our community. This included long hours of work and resources such as helicopters, police officers, firefighters, the Office of Emergency Services, as well as fire engines and help from neighboring counties. It is exactly this type of dedication that makes me feel safe to live in Ventura County.
The day concluded with a Zoom session with Kelly Brown (Director of 2-1-1 Ventura County), Dr. Jim Norris (IT Director for the Ventura County Fire Department), Mallory Crosby (Dispatch Supervisor for the Ventura County Fire Department), and James Joyce III (Coffee with a Black Guy). These conversations continued to drive in the point that we all have and need to establish relationships with one another to help each other in times of need. Communication and unity are the strongest tools we have to move forward together towards a successful future. I am so proud of the leadership in our county and feel honored to be able to contribute my part to its continuous improvement.
For session number four, people were divided in to teams to explore assigned cities within the county. As we ventured out in the day, we reunited in Camarillo where we got to meet Dr. David El Fattal, Acting Chancellor and Vice Chancellor Business and Administrative Services for the County Community College District. He spoke about his responsibilities and one thing that stood out was how he shared that every day was different. He could be going to Wall Street one day and the next, learning about what is the best chemicals to clean the campuses restrooms.
We also had the opportunity to learn about Coffee with a Black Guy. James Joyce III, from Cohort XVII shared about how his company came to be. What I enjoyed was how he shared personal experiences, answered tough questions and brought a sense of hope for the future as long as we continue to have a conversation.
Highlights from the groups consisted of the following:
The mission of Ventura County Leadership Academy is “Connecting People and Issues to Strengthen Our Community;” what better way to live this mission that by exploring every corner of our county in individual groups, and then reporting to the cohort (25-To Life – the best cohort ever.) Our cohort was assigned investigative tasks to research, explore and connect with the communities of Thousand Oaks, Oxnard, Fillmore, Ojai, Camarillo, Moorpark, Port Hueneme, Ventura, Santa Paula, and Simi Valley.
The resulting reports were both intriguing and informative. While you could expect reports from meetings with city leaders, city institutions and figureheads, what resulted instead were reports of challenges, struggles, triumphs and plans for a bright future. Some of the more interesting and exciting reports included: 1) learning that Thousand Oaks has a disc golf course that hosted the first national championship; 2) Ojai is the oldest city in the county 3) Moorpark College has a wild animal training center, and 4) Pot (via legal marijuana dispensary) has actually been GOOD for Port Hueneme.
As every day observers that traverse through the county, we are often neglectful in recognizing the beauty, providence, and innovation that exists around us in our smaller cities. While we learned specific facts and trivia about each city, we were vested with the ability and knowledge to be observant of our surrounding communities and enjoy the beauty of every corner of our county.
Giving Sight to a Blind Society
I think we can all agree that all too often we see our community and society before us, and fail to recognize that our perception is based on our past experiences and framed by our present situation. This process can blind us from perceiving the lives and experience of those not situated as similarly. A breath of fresh air to remedy this malady was delivered by James Joyce (Cohort 17) who exposed himself in raw form to provide a detailed description of cultural bias and the alternate experiential interactions within our society.
With a list of accomplishments and appointments worthy of more than a single blog post, James Joyce is a resident expert on examining misperceptions and misgivings in a society, that at some times, prefers to avoid the difficult conversations that need to happen.
How do we create discourse to bring light to the tough conversations we don’t have? Coffee with a Black Guy! (CWABG.COM) James Joyce has held several conversational setting wherein he sets personal vulnerabilities asides, and invites members of the public to learn from his past, become part of his history, and guide them on their future journey. The discussion is frank, the topics are real, and the lessons are the golden ticket to participating in a society where everyone is equal and inclusion reigns supreme. An inspiring speaker, Coffee with a Black Guy is a must attend!
Ventura County Community College District
Sometimes, numbers are impressive and awe inspiring. Cohort 25 heard from Dr. David El Fattal and Patti Blair and they relayed the following information regarding the Ventura Community College District:
The day started off a little unnerving. With the fires burning, we all had to rearrange our personal schedules a bit, whether that was traveling, daycare, work or even freeway access – they were small issues, but affecting us all. I was checking my email constantly that morning. Coming from West County, I wasn’t sure if we would cancel, move the location or have to jump yet again to another freeway to make sure I was on time-
Being late for the 2nd day of school is just as bad as being late for the first day.
Jump forward a few hours, and in spite of a few detours, Focus Session #2 was on course, barreling straight down the tracks to Local Government, and personal reflection, with #25toLife on board. Settling in to my seat at the Human Services Agency, I was excited and nervous to see what the day held.
Dr. Herb Gooch was wonderful and insightful with explaining (in the most easy to understand terms) how government works alongside politics, and even had helpful stories and (!!!) a PowerPoint to assist my visual learning brain.
He then introduced and moderated a discussion with County of Ventura Supervisor, Kelly Long, and City of Moorpark Council Member, David Pollock, beautifully icing and adding personal sprinkles to my government comprehension cake.
Moving forward, the day was a swirl of Simi Valley learning. From City Hall, to the Library and on to the Sheriff Department, learning the history, culture, and personality of the City helped me to understand the community and how each sector and neighborhood works together to build a strong and vital municipality. When Fred Bauermeister, the Executive Director of the Free Clinic of Simi Valley spoke about his work and place of business, I could grasp how non-profits were able to fill in the gaps in cities, and how those in Public work could still help while fulfilling their passions by volunteering at Private and Non-Profit organizations, further helping and strengthening their community.
Mixed in to the activities were two more personal leadership growth discussions and exercises. I enjoy learning more about myself, as well as my fellow Cohort partners through the guidance and expertise of previous Cohort members and mentors. Banks Pecht helped to grow us individually in a Leadership as Applied lesson, while as a group, we all collectively grew together in Genevieve Evans Taylor, Ed.D.’s Authentic Leadership exercise.
By the end of the day, I wholeheartedly believe I can speak for just about everyone, in that we all had a full, eventful, educating, enriching and fun day that left us all a little tired, mostly at maximum mental capacity, full in personal connections and experiences, more connected with our local communities and government, and definitely overly excited for what next month’s Focus Session will bring.
Driving home from work on Thursday September 12, 2019, the night before VCLA Day One, I was giddy with excitement and gratitude thinking about VCLA starting the next day. I have worked continuously, one way or another since I was 12 years old when I first starting delivering magazines on my bike. However, I have not previously had an opportunity for formal personal development. Therefore, I view my time in VCLA as a gift.
I have not ever really thought about my personal strengths or picking a career that built upon them. I have always loved solving puzzles. Aside from the summer after my junior year at CSUN, when I briefly thought about getting a teaching credential (which was an acceptable career for women in 1981), I thought I wanted to be an attorney-advocate since childhood.
As part of VCLA, all new cohort members are required to take the Clifton Strength Finder. On Day One, Hilary Howard shared her expertise in this area with us. She taught us that we can only build on our strengths, and that we cannot build performance on weakness. This message really resonated with me, especially after running for VUSD School Board last year, and losing. I have spent some time, wasted it seems, over the last year trying to figure out how to identify and improve my weaknesses. However, Ms. Howard’s message taught me that my worldview was backwards, I should be working on maximizing my strengths.
Ms. Howard taught us there are thirty-four prevalent talents, out of which there are thirty-three million combinations. These talents can also be arranged around four main themes: executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking. If you had asked me before I took the Strength Finder which two themes best described me I would have said strategic thinking and executing. However, my top five strengths did not include one strength in executing. My top five strengths include two each in strategic thinking and relationship building, with one in influencing.
Over the last week, I have really thought about this assessment, and my lack of executing strengths. Maybe this explains some things in my life I had attributed to other causes. Clearly, (no pun intended), my strength colored glasses are foggy. However, rather than continue to dwell on improving my weaknesses, I am going to take reassurance in my strengths and use the Cohort 25 to Life community journey to become a more effective leader and change-maker.
Thirty-two individuals took the first steps to becoming a team months before the first session this past Friday. In preparation for applying to become a part of Cohort XXV, I visited the VCLA website and read thru the curriculum. When submitting my application, then again as I prepared for my panel interview, I looked at the website and re-read the expectations. Some weeks later, I received a welcome aboard email. The email was both a welcome and a comprehensive guide to the next steps. Step number one, read, sign, and return an agreement to fulfill the responsibilities and expectations for all cohort members; fourth look at expectations of future cohorts.
September, Friday the 13th I arrived at a remote building in the hills of Ojai. Men and women were in the process of taking seats. I had the agenda, my report, and note-taking materials. The day went mostly as expected. We presented reports, participated in icebreakers, and explored known and unknown information and topics. I had understood that diversity was an important goal for VCLA and I was mildly and pleasantly surprised to meet a couple of folks who I would not readily single out as “leaders” and many who embodied several traits of leadership. Great news, I was prepared to learn and grow with new people over the next year.
Six hours later, I found myself unprepared. My profession is as organizational communicator. “Public” is in my job title. As I looked around the circle of my fellow cohorts from all different backgrounds, motivations, organizations, and communities, and as the “call and response” of the drum circle made its way to me, I could feel my face getting warm and my heart rate pick up. I actually recalled to myself the agreement I had signed: be engaged, be present, communicate, and participate. This couldn’t be part of that requirement. I reassured myself that nobody was expecting a professional performance. I even assured myself that it would take 30 seconds and no one would remember a thing I had done. My turn came and I beat that drum with no expectation of making music or anything pleasant to hear. My 15 seconds (not minutes) of fame passed. I sat there feeling spent and allowing my face to cool.
In my mind, I will rename Focus Session #1, “Reorientation” instead of “Orientation.” I came in with my own expectations beyond the expectations provided to us. I am not shy and like many of Cohort XXV, I signed up to challenge myself. I can’t explain why this particular task was such a challenge to me and I guess that is the point. We are different and we will find things hard while others find them easy. Leadership means a lot of things. We may like, dislike, disagree with, and/or heartily endorse the topics, activities, and speakers over the next few months. For me, on session day one, I faced a challenge because a public drum solo is NOT my thing. Every moment was uncomfortable, and honestly, for me it was embarrassing. I did it. All discordant, disjointed, non-musical, and non-rhythmic all of it. I’m certain it was not as painful for all, maybe not for anyone else. We each will face the next months with our strengths and weaknesses. I will reorient myself. My drum solo is over. We somewhat know what’s coming and we’ll be mostly prepared.
Shortly after our January 11 VCLA session, I took a trip to Pittsburgh for work. As I write this, I am on Southwest Airlines, flying to Denver on my way back home via Burbank.
In the morning portion of the Local Government focus session, the subjects we covered about city government, county government and special districts may not have a greater available organizational and cultural juxtaposition in America than Continue reading
After a morning focusing on local government in Thousand Oaks, I drove the back way through the agricultural fields of Camarillo, a part of the city unfamiliar to me, and met the rest of the cohort at the Port of Hueneme. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Continue reading
How much water comes from the San Joaquin Valley (ie Sacramento) to support the Metropolitan Water District (serving you, me and the 18.999998 million people in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties)?