Local Politics

Monday, Dec 09 2013 09:29 PM

Choosing chairman of supes not as easy as 1, 2, 3

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Supervisor Mike Maggard at the Kern County Board of Supervisors in a file photo.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

For the first time in decades the Kern County Board of Supervisors will formally review how it chooses its chairman.

And that could interject politics into a process that has long been politely nonpolitical.

Since 1971 the board has chosen its next leader on a rotating basis with the goal of having each of the five districts take its turn after a four-year wait.

But current Chairman Mike Maggard said he wants to change tradition into official county policy. And he plans to bring it up at today's regular meeting.

While the chair runs the weekly meetings and signs official documents on behalf of the county, it also appoints supervisors to various boards such as the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the Kern County Employees' Retirement Association.

Also, as Maggard showed in October when he appointed a blue-ribbon committee of local leaders to review the fiscal turmoil at Kern Medical Center, the chairman can occasionally use the position to take executive action.

He didn't have to ask the other supervisors if he could launch the committee.

TRADITION OF TRANSFER

It is freshman Supervisor Leticia Perez's turn to be chairman in 2014.

But under the change Maggard is proposing, Perez's Fifth District, which last had its supervisor serve as chairman in 2008, would have to wait a sixth year before claiming its turn at the county's helm in 2015.

No district has waited that long between chairmanships since 1985.

Maggard said he had no idea it was Perez's turn to serve. He wasn't trying to play politics, he said, just clean up a disorderly string of numbers.

Kern County law directs supervisors to choose a chairman from among their members once a year on the first Monday in January.

That's the only rule.

But in 1949, supervisors established a tradition that blocked the same district from holding the chairmanship for more than one year in a row.

In 1971 the chairmanship of the board began cycling from District 1 to District 5 in numerical order -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

In the 42 years since, the existing pattern has been disturbed four times. Disruptions occur when a new, first-year supervisor is scheduled to take the chairmanship. When that happens the next experienced supervisor in the cycle takes the chairman's middle seat at the dais that year.

MIXED UP PATTERN

The Board of Supervisors has dealt with such hiccups in two different ways.

In 1983, the first time it happened, Third District Supervisor Pauline Larwood -- the first woman elected to the Kern County Board of Supervisors -- had to wait two extra years to serve as chairman.

In 1995, Fourth District Supervisor Ken Peterson took the Third District's turn after Larwood's successor, Barbara Patrick, took office.

Patrick got to take her district's turn in 1996.

The very next year, first-time Fifth District Supervisor Pete Parra was skipped, too.

After that double disruption the board chose to adapt the chairmanship cycle that has remained in place until now. It changed from the sequential 1-to-5 to a hodgepodge cycle that ran this way: 4, 3, 2, 5, 1.

FUTURE POLICY

It was the Fifth District's turn to be chairman in 2013.

But Perez defeated incumbent Karen Goh in 2012 and -- since she would have been a first year chair -- created another schedule shake up.

Because the next two districts in rotation line were also led by first-year supervisors David Couch and Mick Gleason, and third-in-line Supervisor Zack Scrivner had been chair in 2012, Maggard took over.

As the end of his second chairmanship in three years began winding down, Maggard said he started looking at the pattern and wondering if a return to the 1-to-5 pattern might not be a good idea.

"It's a lot more transparent and open if we have a predictable pattern," he said.

So he asked for the pattern to be ensconced in county policy.

That would give Fourth District Supervisor David Couch the chairmanship in 2014.

But it also pushes the Fifth District's chairmanship gap to six years -- the first time that's happened since Larwood was skipped over in 1983 and 1984.

BATTLE LINES

Couch doesn't necessarily agree with the logic that created all the historical disruptions to the 1-to-5 pattern.

"I am not sure that a brand new supervisor can't chair a board of supervisors meeting," he said. "I don't know the additional responsibilities are so vast and so immense that a new member of the board of supervisors could not perform them."

Maggard and Couch have been friends and frequent political allies for 15 years, since both earned seats on the Bakersfield City Council in 1999.

Maggard, a certified public accountant, is trying to be mathematical, not political, Couch said.

"The timing of this proposal certainly affords those who want to create a political controversy where one does not exist that opportunity," he said.

When contacted about the situation, Perez gave a restrained response.

"We have a methodology in place. It seems to have worked really well for previous boards," she said.

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