Will the new county board majority take charge?

January 5, 2017
Mike Brown

Mike Brown

OPINION by MICHAEL F. BROWN

Editor’s note: A column by Republican Mike Brown will run in CalCoastNews every other Thursday, rotating with a column by Democrat Stew Jenkins.

One of the institutional weaknesses of California’s Board of Supervisor form of county government, generically, is that no one is actually in charge from a policy leadership standpoint. There is no mayor, president, prime minister, or chairman elected at large to propose and rally an overall direction for the ensuing two or four years after a new majority is elected.

Most county boards follow a tradition of rotating the board chairmanship among themselves every January, rendering the position relatively weak. Five equal dukes and duchesses, each elected from a separate geographic district, grope for direction and at least three votes to entreat a protected, permanent, and sometimes haughty careerist staff to formulate policy items for potential action. Since each county supervisor is dependent on the voters in their respective districts for support and reelection, there is rarely a voice that can independently propose and lead countywide strategic policy.

Further adding to the centrifugal forces at play, four to seven of the department heads (depending on the practices in a particular county) are directly elected by the voters. These include the district attorney, sheriff, auditor controller (who contradictorily is both chief financial officer and internal auditor), assessor, county clerk-recorder, registrar of voters, and treasurer. Each of these officials is a politician in his or her own right and must stand for election every four years. Often candidates for and members of boards of supervisors must curry favor with some of these political players in the form of endorsements, appearance at rallies, and fundraising in order to be elected.

Further muddying the waters, a number of the appointed department head positions are subject to state legislatively imposed job qualifications and special protections that have rendered them somewhat independent and reminiscent of members of the medieval guild system.

Social services directors, county counsels, agricultural commissioners, behavioral health directors, and probation chiefs all come with California-specific educational and time-in-service requirements, which restrict the number of potential candidates statewide and constrain the ability of boards to enforce policy. In fact, the requirements for agricultural commissioner are so convoluted that it is almost impossible for counties to replace those who retire.

County counsels are provided with a four-year term and can only be removed for bad behavior or neglect of duties.

Unlike governors, presidents, mayors, and city councils (and sometimes city managers in advanced cities), most boards of supervisors have no access to an independent expert policy study and formulation staff.

The relatively structurally weak county administrative officers are primarily focused on the budget and must seek both board approval and staff consensus to even study, let alone propose, a major policy initiative. Moreover they can be fired with three votes on any given Tuesday and must be wary of offending the independently elected department heads or employee labor unions that are supporting particular supervisors with large campaign contributions, not to mention the supervisors themselves.

Given these realities, what can the new incoming San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors majority do to reform the existing county policy that is explicitly hard wired with the overarching “smart growth” prime directive (which is really no growth)?

Supervisor John Peschong

Supervisor John Peschong

If Supervisors Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton, and John Peschong theoretically want to make it easier to zone in and build garden apartments, how should they go about displacing the current set of laws and regulations which make their development almost impossible? Or how could they make it easier to develop housing for the homeless, including homeless RV parks, small apartments, and group homes?

Similarly how could the new board majority move beyond the county’s current nihilist water policy of attrition by conservation and look strategically at big picture solutions with other jurisdictions?

How can the board redirect staff (especially planning, public works, the CAO, public health, community development, and economic vitality corporation) away from adding more and more plans, fish studies, fees, and regulations, and instead to come up with strategic proposals for generating household supporting jobs and the complementary housing?

How about an assignment that says: We want our children and grandchildren to be able to live and work in SLO County inter-generationally. This is more important than all the trivia. Go study this for a month, get the numbers, and give us some alternative policy scenarios. Don’t just list the barriers, but propose some realistic yet innovative solutions. Stop fiddling with vacation rentals, winery ordinances, habitat conservation plans, fee studies, and the stupidly convoluted and constipated Resource Management System for a few weeks and do something real.

Aside from generating genuine strategic policy alternatives for public consideration, the results of the assignment would be a good performance test of imaginativeness and supposed expertise of the department heads involved. These professionals are making over $200,000 in salary and valuable “fringe” benefits. Anyone can figure out how to ban vacation rentals or make adding a bedroom cost $10,000 in “minor use” permit fees, but how are we going to keep our families here (particularly in the teeth of the impending Diablo Canyon shutdown)?

Especially germane to substantive policy leadership and during the Jan. 10, SLO County Supervisor Board meeting, the issue of electing a board chair and vice-chair will be on the agenda.

It is supposedly Supervisor Adam Hill’s turn. Even though he is not part of the board majority, would he be willing to lead a new approach in recognition that there is a new majority?

Supervisor Adam Hill

Supervisor Adam Hill

After the election, the Santa Maria Times reported Hill as stating: “You know, it’s always hard to predict,” Hill said when asked if thinks Peschong’s addition to the board will change its balance. “It would be great to focus on governing, and I feel confident we can do that. I look for (John Peschong) to be a practical, helpful voice more than anything.” Santa Maria Times Nov. 9, 2016.

But will Hill be practical, truthful, and willing to govern in a different direction, or does he see Peschong as useful only if he is a handmaiden to himself (Hill) and Gibson and their established polices?

Ask him. If not, as they say in Jersey, “cut the crap,” elect Peschong (who has large scale organizational experience) board chairman for three years, and start telling staff what policy is.

Hill should understand. After all, and from time to time, he waxes nostalgic about the hard ball New Jersey politics of his youth.

Mike Brown is the Government Affairs Director of the Coalition of Labor Agriculture and Business (COLAB) of San Luis Obispo County. He had a 42-year career as a city manager and county executive officer in 4 states including California. He can be reached at mike@colabslo.org


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R.Hodin

Mike Brown was so full of himself at this morning’s BOS meeting that he ended up getting himself ejected by a Sheriffs deputy for yelling at the members of the board from his seat in the front row during their deliberations. I thought the example of Adam Hill proved to everyone that big egos and board business don’t mix. Mike Brown epitomizes this know-it-all arrogant attitude, but unfortuantely for the citizens of SLO County, he can’t be voted out.


avidreader

I think this is an excellent explanation of how county government works (or doesn’t work). Thanks Mr. Brown for sharing your take on how things can and hopefully will be different with this new majority. We need more elected folks who want less regulations, smaller government and who will listen to the people!


truth set me free

Happy New Year! San Luis Obispo County has a new conservative majority on the Board of Supervisors! Hip-hip-hooray! Thanks Mike for your excellent comments. For those who may not remember, the majority rules on the Board of Supervisors.


It was a pleasure to attend the recent Board of Supervisors’ swearing in ceremony, and to hear Supervisor John Peschong reaffirm his political philosophy.


“I believe in smaller, more efficient government, lower taxes and more personal freedom, and those are the values that I am bringing to the board of supervisors,” Peschong said.


As I said, hip hip hooray!


R.Hodin

As suspected, not a word about personal responsibility. File that in the “obsolete” folder.


Otis

Respectfully, Mr Brown the same complaint that you state, “One of the institutional weaknesses of California’s Board of Supervisor form of county government, generically, is that no one is actually in charge from a policy leadership standpoint.” also pertains to City Councils and District Boards. In all of these governing administrations legal “Executive Authority” rests with the majority.


RonHolt

Mr. Brown, like most politicians and political advocates, seems to be proposing changes that will benefit his points of view now that those he supports have attained power.


Are we so unable to see beyond the immediate future that we are unable to see the danger that will occur when (not if) the political control shifts back to the other side? Laws, regulations and policies that can be abused eventually will be abused. If they can’t be crafted to eliminate (or at least minimize) future abuse we need to take a hard look at their overall cost:benefit ratio and current politics should not be part of the consideration.


Anodyne

What a bunch of horse shit.


“Further muddying the waters, a number of the appointed department head positions are subject to state legislatively imposed job qualifications and special protections that have rendered them somewhat independent and reminiscent of members of the medieval guild system.

Social services directors, county counsels, agricultural commissioners, behavioral health directors, and probation chiefs all come with California-specific educational and time-in-service requirements, which restrict the number of potential candidates statewide and constrain the ability of boards to enforce policy. In fact, the requirements for agricultural commissioner are so convoluted that it is almost impossible for counties to replace those who retire”


They are called minimal qualifications. Are you suggesting that we not require these department heads to be licensed in their respective fields? Arguments like this totally delegitimize his position.


RonHolt

They PARTIALLY de-legitimize his position. There is some truth to his claim that some of the state-mandated qualifications are a bit excessive. The problem is that Mr. Brown — like many conservative political commentators — either don’t have good alternatives to dealing with the problems poor regulations were intended to solve or they propose ones that sound good until a careful, critical look is taken at them. (Those that advocate more regulations tend to have the same sort of blindness to potential ill-effects of what they propose.)


L.A.RamsFan

Mr Holt,


The thing I can’t wrap my head around is the fact that even with regulations those regulated still, for the most part, act as if there are none. Why is that? Then, when we see that they won’t, we put more regulations in place. Why is that? THEN we don’t hold them accountable on any of them! Why is that?!!! I have my own opinion, I’m just askin’ you for yours…


Human nature is a funny thing, then when you add “profits” to the equation it often becomes an ugly thing.


L.A.RamsFan

Mr. Smith (I like startin’ off like that when it’s gonna get personal…),


Why does our current form of politics and politicians have to be so god damn confrontational based around the “blame game”? “It’s your fault! No, it’s yours!” doesn’t get anywhere and is just god damn irritating! You spoke of muddying the waters, right? Well what the f*** is it you’re doing?! You sure as hell don’t “clear the waters” with the blame game.


What are you going to do today? What are your plans for tomorrow? How will it be a positive effect for ALL OF US (yes, that would include all things environmental)? What will it cost? Where will the money come from? How will government govern it? What will you do if it’s wrong (an audible is the mark of any pro’)?


Don’t be one of these “repeal then replace”, whatever the hell it is, idiots, please! Find something better first then show ALL OF US how it’s better then replace it!


One other thing; while taking note of our past failures it shouldn’t mean dangling the hangman’s noose around everyone that is either party or philosophically opposed to you. Keep doin’ that and we’ll get no f***in’ where…


L.A.RamsFan

Smith?! Brown? It don’t matter with a politician, right? They’ll be whomever you want them to be for that vote…


I don’t know how I got Smith! Nope! Can’t blame it on the evil weed either as I haven’t smoked any yet (to early in the evening). So, I guess it’s just me.


Keep it simple Mr. Politician for the betterment of us simpletons…


L.A.RamsFan

“Stop fiddling with vacation rentals, winery ordinances, habitat conservation plans, fee studies, and the stupidly convoluted and constipated Resource Management System for a few weeks and do something real.”


Well, well! More shit from a politician! That one paragraph made the rest of your self serving opinion null-and-void.


You know what it really said, don’t you Mr. Smith? What it said was “One party f**ked this up now we need to let the other do what they want to fix it”! Bullshit!


Like I said to your counterpart, it’s time you started speaking AND listening to us, you know?! The folks you work for! And that means ALL OF US!


“Five equal dukes and duchesses, each elected from a separate geographic district, grope for direction and at least three votes to entreat a protected, permanent, and sometimes haughty careerist staff to formulate policy items for potential action.”


Wow! All the while gerrymandering is a politicians best friend!


Bitch, bitch, bitch….


2good2b4got

Mr. Brown’s opinion is quite the opposite of self-serving. He SERVES the people of SLO County who want common sense leadership in our local government without the drama and tyranny.


L.A.RamsFan

” He SERVES the people of SLO County…”


Really? No he doesn’t! Neither does his counterpart! They both serve their party and its constituents, if they even do that! If they do serve anyone they start off with financially well off and work their way down to you and I! Period!


I’m “people” and his views and opinions are not mine, so don’t bunch me in with the likes of those who don’t see the bullshit that both Mr. Brown and Mr. Jenkins truly represent.


Thank you!


rukidding

Very interesting article. Unfortunately no one can please everyone although most politicians give it a try and consequently nothing happens except maybe getting re-elected.

If you really want change, and i believe most of us do, you have to straighten up the your backbone and hold hold your ground and go for it.

Affordable housing always seems to be the hot topic. Unfortunately not everyone is going to be able to live in San Luis Obispo. Being the “nicest place” to live comes with a premium. I know that after leaving home and becoming independent my first purchase of a home was by no means going to be in the neighborhood that I grew up in. It too was a very nice place to live.

Providing affordable housing with government involved is nothing more than a joke. Self Help housing projects requiring close to $50,000 in fees and costs prior to breaking ground on a single family residence and that doesn’t include all of the government staff time to put the projects together. Affordable apartment units where all of the politicians show up for a photo op. Cost per unit around $350,000 per unit compared to around $110,000 per unit on the open market.

Then you have the HSOC, Homeless Services Oversight Committee, that was formed about 10 years ago to eliminate homelessness within 10 years. Adam Hill was the first chair of the committee but shortly turned it over to Debbie Arnold, I think he saw the light. Well they have about 2 more years to go any guess what might get accomplished? I can’t even imagine the funds that have been spent on this program with little results.

Now the good news. With a majority Board of Supervisors who have said they want to fix all of this they now have the opportunity to do it if the have the backbone and can hold their ground to do it.