A new county board and a new attitude
January 7, 2015
OPINION By JULIE TACKER
Out with the old; in with the new, it’s a new year. Jan. 5 brought a new attitude to San Luis Obispo County government as the District 4 supervisor’s switched places.
Caren Ray left the office she was appointed to after the untimely death of Paul Teixeira and newly elected Supervisor Lynn Compton stepped to the dais.
Ray’s bon voyage letter to the editor in the local daily paper suggests that anyone with a thick skin should consider running for office and that public service is hugely rewarding. It is, and more people should run.
But, to say that now, after she led a campaign that castigated Compton for never having served in the public arena is hypocritical. Ray supporters will be pleasantly surprised at how approachable Compton is and should make every effort to meet her and seek her representation on issues that matter to them.
She will need your help in shaping decisions that affect the district.
The change in the guard was also reflected in the change of the chairmanship, as vice chair District 1 Supervisor Frank Mecham was unanimously elected by his colleagues to serve as Chair.
The seat had long been held by District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson who moved up from Vice Chair upon Teixeira’s death. But, what happened next was a bit perplexing.
While it was agreed that Mecham should move up, it was no slam dunk to move District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill to Vice Chair. The nomination was made, but District 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold balked to point out that the rotation in which chair and vice chair seats have been selected, has not been orderly.
Gibson, wrongly still acting as chair, failed to open the discussion to the public. Had he, many of those in the audience may have sided with Arnold and probably would have brought up the embarrassing antics Hill has displayed over the course of his term. This is likely the reason Gibson rushed the nominations through. Hill has already served as chairman, in 2011 during his first term; it was Ms. Arnold’s turn.
Arnold cast the dissenting vote as Hill was appointed vice chair. With Hill serving as vice chair this year he will be poised to serve as chair in 2016, the year that both he and Arnold will be up for re-election.
The advantage of being the chair during ones re-election campaign is obvious and was well played this past year by Gibson. He was able to manipulate the board’s agenda’s, keeping anything controversial from his district from being heard and masterfully kept the county’s collective attention focused the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.
He easily won re-election touting his successes in beginning construction on the Los Osos sewer. He took credit for new libraries and restoration of the Cayucos Pier when clearly those accomplishments were driven by private donations and dedicated volunteers. He even went so far as to take credit for forcing Cal Trans to repave Highway 1 after experimental material proved dangerous for bicyclists — a liability Cal Trans was well aware of and would have worked swiftly to repair with or without Gibson’s influence.
The Jan. 6 regular board meeting was different than any in recent memory. A new board, a new seating arrangement – ironically, Gibson seated far to the left and Compton on the far right of the dais.
Other improvements included no sheriff deputy standing watch over the public and no rush to turn in a speaker slip before public comment was to begin.
Chairman Mecham listened to each speaker; in some cases he playfully interacted with them, commenting on what had been said and when the last speaker was finished he asked sincerely if anyone else in the room would like to speak.
This is in stark contrast to over a year and a half of the iron fist of Gibson, who would interrupt speakers, had people removed from the board chambers without warning, denied members of the public the opportunity to speak if they arrived late and would reduce public comment to less than three minutes per person if more than ten speaker slips would take the public comment portion of the meeting over 30 minutes.
This represents a new air at the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors that will hopefully continue through 2015. With a supervisor known to impersonate others and submit late night ramblings to the press, we don’t know what we’ll get when Hill is chair in 2016.