Opinion

COMMUNITY OPINION: Do county supervisor candidates understand the job description?

Jennifer Coile questions if candidates have the commitment, knowledge of issues and qualifications to make smart decisions if elected.

This community opinion was contributed by resident Jennifer Coile. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors. BenitoLink invites all community members to share their ideas and opinions. By registering as a BenitoLink user in the top right corner of our home page and agreeing to follow our Terms of Use, you can write counter opinions or share your insights on current issues.

 

I will be very interested to read the Candidate Statements in the forthcoming Voter Guide (Note to the people in the new houses: if you see a candidate with no statement, it’s because they didn’t pay the extra fee for it). The questions at BenitoLink’s Candidate Forum were excellent but the format gave candidates brief times to speak: 30 second opening statement, 1 minute responses to 3 questions, and 45 second closing remarks. For me, the candidate’s choice of words in that short time generally indicated that many don’t know what a county supervisor does nor are they ready to make the commitment needed to get the job done competently.

The Basics:
Been to a meeting? Among the 12 candidates in three districts, there is only one incumbent (due to governor’s appointment, in the job for six months) and a current City of Hollister councilman. Of the other candidates, only one stated that they had attended a meeting (or watched virtually) of the Board of Supervisors (BOS). There are three former county employees, but it was not clear if they were involved in meetings.

Read an agenda packet? No one mentioned it. The packets are online. It’s tedious, sure, hundreds of pages and some of it very technical. But if someone said they had read the agenda packets for the past six months, I would feel they were up on the recent BOS decisions. Meeting Archives | San Benito County, California (cosb.us).

Familiar with the General Plan? No one said they had read it. A few mutterings about growth control but no real understanding of what land use decisions have already been legally determined in accordance with State law.

Know the County budget? Are we going up or down in revenues and costs? Which ones? How will higher gas prices affect our operating budget e.g. vehicle expenses?

Data? Statistics? Heard very few in connection with discussing issues and solutions.

Relationships? Do they have contacts with community leaders, not just here but in nearby counties?

Qualifications:
Management experience/relevant experience: Very few said anything about their work experience or education and how it might be relevant to being in charge of a $190 million budget and 183 employees. The former county employees weren’t clear about their role and responsibilities and how they might have gained insights.

Background in county: When someone says “I’m 5th generation in the County,” that means to me they have watched mismanagement for 100 years. I’d rather vote for someone who lived in San Mateo County and moved here two years ago because they have experienced what competent county government is like. And the person whose uncle was a supervisor for 24 years – that’s cool, but what did you learn about county government from him?

Knowledge of the community: Almost nobody mentioned volunteer work, community service, board memberships (thanks for being the exception, Sheriff Taylor – I’m talking about the BOS candidates). Give me a Rotarian, LULAC member, PTO, participating in some way in the 120+ nonprofit organizations in the county (https://givesanbenito.org/nonprofit-directory).

The Issues:

Economic Development: Only a handful mentioned expanding local jobs to combat commute traffic/improve quality of life was important. Just one candidate mentioned the Economic Development Corporation and the county’s need to work in partnership with them. The candidates were asked about expanding county revenues but didn’t indicate many ideas.

Agriculture: Several acknowledged its importance in the county economy, but we are in the middle of a serious drought with new/different rules announced for ag access to water. Only one mentioned this – any thoughts? Strategically, an we support ag to expand it, make it more profitable/generate more tax revenues, create more jobs, or should we focus on filling the empty lots with industrial zoning at the airport?

Affordable Housing: Never mentioned. So, are we the only county in California where this is not an issue? We are about to start updating the “Housing Element” of the General Plan, as required by state law, which will determine policy and programs for the next eight years. The lack of interest or priority may be reflected in the county’s website for the County Housing Programs Division  and the City of Hollister website: Housing.

COVID Recovery: Is everything hunky-dory? Did our small businesses get the help they needed? Are the American Recovery Funds being spent wisely and strategically?

Mental Health: There was a specific question about services at the Department of Behavioral Health. Did anyone study their budget to review existing priorities and resources, or a needs assessment to determine the areas of great need with a strategy to address them?

The Landfill: One candidate said they had been on a tour, but didn’t enlighten us further about what they learned (to be fair, a minute isn’t a lot of time to respond). Another candidate said that on April 1, 2022, the landfill stopped accepting garbage from outside the county. Different people said different things about the number of years of capacity we have left, considering population growth; wonder which is true.

Communication and Engagement with residents, especially commuters: In the 20 years I’ve lived here, politicians have generally ignored commuters and focused on the descendants of the people who moved here in the 1870s. The people in the new houses have probably seen many tools for government communication with community members where they lived before, even new ones developed during COVID shutdowns, but that’s not a priority here. Looks like it still won’t be, at least these candidates didn’t suggest specific changes.

Commitment:
Full-time/part-time: If they are working full-time now, what will they do if elected? Do you think it’s just a meeting on almost every Tuesday – plus reading the packet in advance? No! There are BOS committee meetings as well, and supervisors serve on a long list of committees, interjurisdictional groups, joint meetings with school districts, etc. – some of these will likely be going off of virtual meetings to in-person in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Sacramento.

Back in 2002, Reb Monaco was the first supervisor willing to leave the county and go ask Sacramento to give us what we deserve. Can they put the time in for non-Tuesday meetings plus travel? At the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, wouldn’t it be great if the tri-county meetings were attended by somebody from San Benito County in addition to Leslie David and Cristina Chavez-Wyatt?

And what about training? Are they willing to participate in meetings, conferences, webinars to expand their technical knowledge of state regulations, which change frequently? 30 bills related to housing passed in each of the years 2020 and 2021.

Values:
Love of God, family, and country and “person of faith”: Mentioned by several, presumably to indicate personal values. But does that translate to taking time away from family and dedicating one’s self with God’s help to serving our county with the hours and hours needed to be one of the three votes needed for smart decisions?

“Transparency”: Have you ever played word Bingo with politician speeches, such as the Presidential debates, to see how many times the candidates mention certain terms? Others could do a scientific analysis, but I would guess the most frequently mentioned term in the forum was “transparency.” Not sure how that is relevant here, except at the San Benito High School District which does not record nor stream online their Board meetings, hence no transparency whatsoever ($23 million annual budget, 400 employees, affecting the futures of 3200 young people). Must be physically in the room when it happens to know who said what.

 

Jennifer Coile

I moved to Hollister in 2001 because of my husband's local job. I'm a retired commuter/telecommuter working as a consultant in affordable housing, community development/planning, economic development and grant management. My volunteer work is generally devoted to cultural events for youth. I'm a founding board member of the Pinnacles Partnership in support of Pinnacles National Park. On November 19, 2012, Governor Brown appointed me to the Board of the 33rd District Agricultural Association/San Benito County Fair.