BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Kern County supervisors, with a quick bit of collaboration Tuesday, agreed on how to pick a chairman without triggering political war.
Speakers poised to assault a plan that would have prevented Fifth District Supervisor Leticia Perez from being chairman in 2014, instead cheered the board's action.
"You've taken the wind out of my sails," said county Democratic Party Chair Candi Easter. "I just witnessed an amazing moment of government in action."
Supervisors won that praise by creating a formal policy that will, starting in 2016, cycle the chairmanship from District 1 to District 5 in numerical order.
A previous proposal by current chairman Mike Maggard would have moved the board immediately to the 1-to-5 cycle, but might have triggered a fight with Perez.
"My goal was not to overlook Supervisor Perez," Maggard said.
Perez, who under board tradition was due to be supervisor in 2014, would have been bumped back a year by Maggard's plan.
District Five would have seen the longest stretch between chairmanships since 1985.
Maggard and Supervisor David Couch, who in Maggard's plan would have been chairman next year, quickly moved to find a compromise.
Couch offered to skip his turn as chairman until 2018.
Perez rejected the idea of delaying District Four's turn too long.
"Respectfully, I submit that we shouldn't do something that would disenfranchise Mr. Couch," she said.
Perez then suggested starting the 1-to-5 cycle in 2016, when First District Supervisor Mick Gleason is due to be chair.
The board voted unanimously to approve that idea.
Supervisors also directed staff to come up with policy to control what happens when a first-year supervisor is scheduled to be chairman -- the situation that caused Tuesday's uncertainty by bumping Perez from the chair in 2013, her first year.
Supervisors also discussed a more serious challenge than who sits where on the dais.
Kern County has committed in the next five years to help fund several major projects, including a new wing at Lerdo Jail and roads and freeways planned under the Thomas Roads Improvement Program.
But its ability to borrow for multi-million dollar projects is limited by serious financial challenges said David Leifer of KNN Public Finance, a county consultant.
Kern County can borrow between $50 million and $250 million without getting into trouble, he said.
But Kern's current debts, along with a sluggish state economy, Kern Medical Center's troubled finances and more than $1 billion in unfunded future pension costs for Kern County Employees Retirement Association, suggests the county should stay on the low end of that range, Leifer said.
Supervisors called for an aggressive investigation of options so the county is ready when projects need money.