Sonoma CountyFourth District Candidate debate April 26, 2010

Raven Theater, Healdsburg, California

So I’ve decided that Sonoma Buzz should live up to it’s name by giving a personal political perspective on the state of affairs in our county. In particular I’d like to review what Debora Fudge and Mike McGuire said at the debate on April 26th . What has inspired me to add my views is what they did not say, nor cover, in their comments. So this post both reviews what I remember about what they said [and adds my commentary in some locations]

I live in north east Santa Rosa, in the 4th supervisorial district. From the conversation last night I would not have known that northeast Santa Rosa, Larkfield, Wikiup, Geyserville or Cloverdale, let alone Fulton was even in the district. Aside from the introduction, they were barely mentioned.

I kept rough notes, so I may not capture everything here, but I’d like to tell you what I took away.

The Press Democrat covered the matter above the fold in Empire News.

There is also a 79 minute video version:
North County Supervisors Debate , North County Supervisors Debate, April 26, 2010. … video

On Twitter, Tim Aboudara, @Taboudarajr, did a very engaging tweet by tweet real time account.

The primary issues mentioned from my notes:

Introduction
Debora Fudge, DF, began by describing herself as a fiscal conservative. She talked about water, Smart Train, growing Sonoma County.

Mike McGuire, MM, talked about his roots in the county, experience as a young (19 yoa) school board member, his dedication to job development. He emphasized that Healdsburg had developed the most affordable housing per capita of any community in the county. He wants to focus on the 22% of the population who are unemployed and he said we have to balance the budget.

The first phase was the candidates questioning each other. DF asked MM how he could reconcile the fact that he has both developers and unions endorsing him although these are disparate interests. MM responded that he got those endorsements based on interviews done by himself and DF. He said he hoped to bring us all together. He was proud that he is able to work with all sides. Sounding like a polished and prepared politician, he said, “It’s not special interests it’s all our interests.”

MM asked DF how she could describe Windsor as an economic success when it had the highest rate of foreclosures in the county, it was using reserves to balance its budget, and it was not doing well with sales taxes.
DF: In addition to talking about the process Windsor had been through to become as successful as it is, DF said that, like all communities, Windsor was having to address budget crisis. She said that Windsor was in a good position because they have been strategic in their cutbacks that had to be made. MM responded by saying to DF, “You are stretching the truth.”

DF asked MM how he could explain the fact that he had been a leader in the Saggio Hills process wherein the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was rejected by the courts and now further costs were incurred to correct those errors. MM responded that the developer is bearing the costs of the further litigation. He talked about the housing benefits the project had built in with regard to affordable housing and staff housing for people working in the Saggio Hills development.

There was an exchange about employment and the economy in which DF talked about the 38,000 jobs the Smart Train would foster. She talked about climate protection efforts linked to job creation. She also said that she would expedite projects by changing or reducing planning requirements. MM Talked about having a six (6) point plan to reduce unemployment.

The next question concerned whether the role as water district board of directors and Ag & Open Space Board of directors should be removed from the purview of the BOS and set up as separate autonomous boards.

MM said he was concerned about the needs of the 600,000 water district customers. He said it was critical for the Water District Leadership to rebuild trust with the costumers (and constituent municipalities?) He said he believes that the Water Board as currently structured in the BOS is adequate and working. He said the Open Space District should remain under the BOS

DF said that she is on the Water Advisory Board. She says the water board needs a new governance structure because some of the stakeholders, particularly rural stakeholders, are missing from the table. She agreed the Open Space District should remain under the BOS.

Both candidates enthusiastically endorsed the proposal that the county should have a Living Wage Ordinance.

The next question concerned whether the county should keep the central landfill or arrange to have waste trucked to other disposal sites. DF said she is on the Waste Advisory group. She said we should keep the landfill open but add a “MRF”, Materials Recycling Facility, to reduce the actual amount of waste discarded. DF also proposed the development of an alternative energy generation facility as part of the landfill site. I did not record MM response.

There was a question of whether the Sheriff’s Office should cooperate with ICE on immigration issues. DF said no. MM saw problems in cooperation with ICE. He called for national immigration reform which addressed the law enforcement concerns as well as policies for day laborers, housing and worker dignity.

There were questions on the General Plan Agriculture ordinance concerning open spaces between population centers and Rural Roads conditions.

The next question was on the addition of more casinos. DF said there should be no more casinos. DF said the Lytton Pomos were buying land west of Windsor but would give no assurances that they would mitigate the impacts of the use of that land. She said (or implied) she did not trust that they were not planning to build a casino. Similarly MM said he was concerned about plans for another casino in Cloverdale and in the Alexander Valley, the West Soda Rock project, near his families historic farming area.

[I was particularly disappointed with these answers. It is important to be reminded that the Indian Tribes are sovereign governments. It struck me as sad when Paul Kelley was so rigid in his response and it strikes me as very unfortunate that our new north county supervisor would not have the finesse and foresight to work with the tribal leadership to foster positive growth for the tribes and in collaboration with the county. When the answer is simply “no” then you’ve kinda shot yourself in the foot. Clearly the tribes have to negotiate with the governor and the federal government to proceed on any project. Similarly, the tribes have to secure co-sponsorship in development of casinos or other economic development activities. I hope Sonoma County leaders can tone down the rhetoric and form a partnership with the tribes. These are the people who historically had the rights to all of this land.  I hope we can move past such negative attitudes and realistically work with them as they exercise their rights. Casinos are not the only economic development, but if options aren’t explored then they’ll be the choice by default.]

Both candidates expressed their opposition to further gravel mining on the Russian River.

There was a question which said that Sonoma County was the only county which did not put county funds into Mental Health services. Would the candidates, as supervisor, support county funds for mental health? [I question whether the premise of the question is accurate, the county does have some investment in mental health, and they are mandated to provide a certain level of service, but that’s an issue which could be explored by people more knowledgeable than I am.]

DF said that as the economy improved she would consider that. Her answer indicated to me that she knew very little about mental health issues. MM talked about the issues which law enforcement and mental health professionals have had to deal with, tragically. He used the example that San Antonio, Texas, has specialized MH response teams in law enforcement. He concluded by saying that this would be a hard thing to fund since there were indications that the $61 million deficit will rise to be a deficit of $75 million.

[The issue of MH is difficult and complicated, I hope and expect the candidates will become fully knowledgeable as supervisor, because there are many more facets to the MH issues than they addressed or even implied.]

The next question concerned how the supervisor would address the fiscal issues of Pensions and administrator’s salaries.

For both candidates this was the biggest non-answer to a direct question of the night. They both talked about the take-away of retirees health benefit coverage and that they would each want to readdress the taken away benefit once elected.

[The issue of pensions is a hugely complicated and emotionally charged issue I might avoid if I was running for elected office.

BUT, I wish I heard someone say this, though:

The issue of pensions and salaries is a very important element of how the government delivers services. As a supervisor I think it will be my responsibility to work diligently to assure that the citizens of our county are served well. I know for a fact that the people who work for the county, the public servants who you pay your taxes to support take their jobs very seriously. I know that if you saw how hard our county employees work you’d agree they should be properly compensated. Government has a responsibility to be transparent and open in our business practices; we are. The county of Sonoma has a very long history working with our unions, which are made up of our citizens who work as county employees. Last year almost all the unions agreed to mandatory time off, a reduction in pay, to play their part in alleviating the budget crisis then.

It is common knowledge among our administrators and staff that we’ll have to make more tough budget choices this year. Despite the rancor and rhetoric that sometimes accompanies these difficult conversations, it is my understanding from both management and labor that they can sit at the table and work these things out. They have to work them out. I know that all concerned do it for the good of the people of Sonoma County. I know I can play a positive role when I am a supervisor to face these difficult challenges. [this is when she hold up that 30 second sign – but ignore it this time.]

I think we should honor the good work of our employees, and that includes our retirees. They worked a career serving the people of Sonoma County and the BOS at that time made certain commitments which we have to do our best to honor today. I don’t know exactly how we’ll honor them, but I know that the health benefits we offered were part of that deal and as the BOS we have to look at what we can do to address that concern.

As to administrator salaries, that is somewhat of a “red herring”. The top management, and all our employees, are paid based on competitive wages or salaries given by comparably sized counties. In order to attract and keep top talent salaries and the culture of collaboration are key positive elements. I think it is unfair to pit administrators against labor, or government employees against the private sector. My experience in Sonoma County is that we have many great minds that will help us work on these issues, so I want your help to make the best of our situation, now and in the future.]

Both candidates went on to say they support Russian River Clean up and Air service via Horizon.

There was an esoteric question about private ownership of water wells. DF talked about her experience growing up in a rural area and dealing with the well. MM said that the question implied whether there should be mandatory versus voluntary monitoring of well water (ground water) usage. [If we are paying attention we’ll see that the feds, state, or county (or all of the above) are going to be concerned about water use in the future. As a child my father told me that the issues in California were always about water, water, and water.]

The next question concerned how the BOS could help the schools. After some “inside baseball” type comments about the superintendent questioning the BOS candidate’s interest in the issue the candidates responded. MM talked about the fact that he has posted his Education Plan, He said we need to facilitate business involvement with schools. He talked about promoting the “Safe Routes to School” funding that was recently secured. He also talked about planning efforts to collocate parks near schools to help the schools.
DF said there could be costs savings and mutual benefits of consolidated services, e.g. field maintenance by the city to get cost savings for the schools. DF talked about having joint use agreements between the county and schools.

The final 3 questions were classic sponsored debate format.

First – What are your key strengths/differences as candidates
Debora Fudge emphasized that she has 16 years of experience in government leadership roles. She said she finishes what she starts; for example, she was asked in 2002 to run for supervisor but chose not to because she need to stay in Windsor leadership to finish the Town Green development process. DV said she had 25 years experience (with PG&E) and government (Jerry Brown’s office). She’s worked on issues of water, environmental planning, and she is someone who brings people together.

Mike McGuire said that he saw four (4) key strengths he brings: his commitment to work on environmental issues, his ability to work with divergent groups, he is committed to put aside partisanship and work on partnership, and he has demonstrated a very strong personal work ethic.

The final question was: “What is you top priority for open space district funds?

MM said that partnership with the community, particularly as funds are used to ensure the community separators. He would focus on lands closest to community areas that preserve open space but create opportunities for use by the public. He would protect the lands most threatened
DF said she would use open space funds for lands in the community separator areas. She would like to see those lands also used by local farmers to grow local foods. This would assure healthy foods are accessible and reduce green house gases in the production/marketing process.

In conclusion MM said that we need to focus on solving our fiscal crisis. We have to assure Ag protection, we have to focus on jobs, we have to make tough choices. We need collaboration with administrators, employees and the BOS.

DF said she wants to serve Sonoma County because she has proven ability. The work she has done up to this time makes her the most prepared to be a supervisor. She wants to create a thriving business environment (which will benefit the county). She has the skill set, she is worried about jobs losses and foreclosures the citizens face. She is a fiscal conservative, an experienced executive and she is committed to working together with all people in the community.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

There were a number of key issues and constituencies in the county which neither candidate discussed, nor was the question asked from the audience questions.  I know it was only 90 minutes – so they couldn’t get to everything.  I would like to let folks know what I hope gets addressed as time goes along.

Neither candidate clearly mentioned the needs of children and families. They touched on schools, and safe routes to school, and joint land use to support parks. They talked about linking business to schools. But neither of them talked about children’s issues. They didn’t talk about how child care, parental roles, community based services for children, or other such vital resources.

Similarly, neither talked about the needs of older adults to have an infrastructure that supported and protected them.

Although they talked about law enforcement and mental health, they did not talk about the issues of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, services needs, supportive services for families, etc.  My key point is that neither candidate highlighted how reductions in services will translate into negative consequences for the most vulnerable citizens.

Neither talked about the role of the county in assuring health care. This was an important unasked question. Given that the national health plan places huge responsibility on Community Health Clinics it is surprising that this was not mentioned. The county has the major leadership role locally on this issue.

Similarly, when they talked about the budget deficit and the tough choices there were absolutely no specifics about what they would preserve, how they would set priorities, nor what they would cut.

No one talked about respect for the dedicated efforts of county employees.

The issues were agriculture, water, transportation, roads, jobs, and the Russian River (in Windsor and Healdsburg)

Since I am a professional in human Services (social worker) I was disappointed that neither candidate demonstrated any knowledge of the Human Services Department and the vital role it plays in supporting and protecting the populace. HSD is the largest part of the budget, although it has significant amounts of federal and state dollars. Similarly, neither candidate talked about the role of the Probation department in helping reduce and eliminate crime. There are some very positive things happened in adult and juvenile Probation, and the BOS oversees this.

The positive side of the County business equation was also left out. Why didn’t anyone talk about examining the business practices of the county to assure that maximum use of available resources was assured? How about collecting funds and disbursement of funds? Usually that is a standard thing under the negative guise of “waste fraud and abuse” or a positive approach of assuring the “best business practices”. Are the candidates happy with how things are being done, or do they have any proposals for enhancing county business practices?

Finally, I cannot understand why County and City leaders aren’t clamoring for our state leaders, the governor and legislators, to fix their structure and stop leaving the county to pick up the leftover pieces and serve the people. Services are delivered locally. With so many bright people active in getting folks elected, why aren’t we effectively shining the light of questions and responsibility on the folks in Sacramento who actually influence how every corner of Sonoma County runs? It’s a great political point to shout about. The BOS is a place to run the county’s business, but it’s also a strong vehicle to exercise our county rights in the face of State or Federal mandates.

So there you have it, my first fully political blog.

This shoulda been on Empire Report.