Lois Henry

Tuesday, Mar 19 2013 06:27 PM

LOIS HENRY: Reality TV has nothing on Kern supervisor meetings

By Lois Henry

The Board of Supervisors is a never-ending source of entertainment for me.

Where else can you watch a fully grown, elected official refuse to retire specifically so the public can't evaluate his office?

Related Info

Lois Henry hosts a segment of "First Look with Scott Cox" every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.

Or see three supervisors blithely nod in agreement that spending nearly $75,000 a year that wasn't budgeted will have "no fiscal impact"?

Then there are the letters!

And let me tell you, no one throws a roundhouse kick to the face in written form quite like attorney George Martin.

Who needs cable?

So, there I was keeping half an eye on the supervisors' meeting via the world wide web when up walks an angry Assessor-Recorder Jim Fitch.

In case you don't recall, Fitch had announced his retirement effective March 30.

Of course, it was mid-term because no Kern County elected official these days apparently feels any responsibility to serve out the full length of their terms.

Anyhow, Fitch was upset that supervisors were entertaining a suggestion by KernTax Director Michael Turnipseed to use the opportunity of his retirement to review the Assessor-Recorder's office. Specifically, Turnipseed was concerned that the Assessment Appeals Board sides with the Assessor-Recorder's office in more than 80 percent of the cases it hears, which is far higher than most other counties.

He also suggested that supervisors hold off on appointing an interim assessor-recorder until after the performance evaluation.

"I thought March Madness referred to a basketball tournament," was Fitch's opening line.

That caught my attention.

He went on to lambast Turnipseed as working for big oil and said oil wants to meddle in the Assessor-Recorder's office because the office holds oil's feet to the fire on property taxes.

The process of appointing an interim assessor-recorder had become "politically charged," he said, "a circus," and oil was orchestrating a "campaign" against his office.

Therefore, he was pulling his retirement papers and would likely run again in 2014, he announced.

Hmmmm. Personally, after that display, I think a performance evaluation is needed more than ever.

Supervisors aren't totally helpless just because Fitch is elected. They do have the authority to supervise all county officers, particularly those who assess, collect or manage public funds, per Govt. Code Section 25303.

And Revenue and Taxation Code Section 408(b) says the assessor shall disclose information or permit acess to all records to supervisors when conducting an investigation pursuant to 25303.

Unfortunately, supervisors took Fitch's announcement with an "okie dokie" attitude and dropped all talk of evaluating the office.

Oh well.

Moving on, I'm always intrigued by government budgets. They're so fantastically fluid.

Animal Control Director Jen Woodard asked for and got approval for an unbudgeted position of volunteer coordinator at a cost of $74,998. (She also got $198,398 for a business manager and fiscal supervisor, neither of which were initially budgeted but are essential as Animal Control transitions to a stand-alone department.)

Woodard had her budget guru explain to supervisors that Animal Control hasn't yet hired all its budgeted positions. So all those unpaid salaries will make up enough "savings" to pay for the volunteer coordinator position this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

And next year? Why, it'll just be built into the budget, of course.

Classic budget creep!

Not all letters to the supervisors are worth the time it takes to go through them.

But the ones from George Martin are must-reads.

He's told the board off in various ways over the years, including emails and face-to-face during open session.

His latest missive was sent March 6 after a month of not hearing back from the county regarding the city/county dustup over how property taxes are split. Martin has been hired by Bakersfield.

After one mediation session didn't resolve things, Martin sent a plea to supervisors for two more mediation sessions.

He got an email back from County Counsel Theresa Goldner saying she would discuss his request with supervisors in closed session, when appropriate, and all future communications should go through her.

Then nothing.

Ignoring Martin is one way to go. But it's usually the wrong way.

In his March 6 letter, he accuses supervisors of playing "turf war politics," holding annexations hostage to squeeze more fees out of citizens and trying to pit county and city residents against each other.

"If you want to fight with over half your voters then you certainly are going to get that fight!" he writes.

He ends by promising his next move is: "On to the Court and on to the ballot box. It was your choice and you just blew it!"

See? Better than reality TV any day. And this was one of the board's quieter meetings.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com

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