Local Politics

Monday, Apr 23 2012 05:39 PM

Candidate floats idea of part-time Board of Supervisors

BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

David Couch, sparing politely Monday with his opponent in the race for the 4th District Board of Supervisors seat, suggested making the job he's running for part-time.

Couch proposed moving the five full-time supervisors to part-time status if the county was, first, shifted to a strong-CAO form of government.

Both Couch and opponent Harley Pinson have said they support increasing the power vested in the county administrative officer, the top appointed official in county government, who is tasked with developing budgets, communicating with the public and coordinating the interaction between supervisors and the more than 30 county department heads who run front-line operations.

Much of the power currently resides with supervisors or department heads.

Couch's suggestion, made during a meeting with The Californian editorial board, punctated a discussion of how to reform and streamline county government, which both candidates tout as a serious goal of their campaigns.

He said there is no question that, as it stands now, supervisors work a full-time job.

But both he and Pinson say the county's bureaucratic structure is antiquated and there is too much power invested in department heads and, frankly, there are too many departments.

If the county changes the structure, then everything changes, Couch said.

"If we go far enough with streamling county government, to a strong CAO, then I think (a part-time board) is an open question," he said.

He said he doesn't believe that moving power from supervisors, who are elected by the public, to a county employee appointed by the board and then reducing the time board members are involved in running the county would reduce the public's influence over their government.

Both he and Pinson have advocated for more transparency and accountability from county government in the wake of ethics scandals involving the former Kern County fire chief and librarian.

Couch said transparency and a part-time board of supervisors are not mutually exclusive.

"Transparency can be advocated for and attainted whether you're a full-time supervisor or a part-time," he said.

The idea of moving full-time politicians to part-time jobs is not new.

Couch supports the effort of Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, to put a part-time state legislature measure on the ballot in November.

And San Bernardino County supervisors, their hands forced by a union-backed petition drive, have placed a measure on the November ballot that would make them a part-time board, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner said that Kern County has reviewed the idea of a strong county executive position and considered making the change that, Couch said, would need to happen before he would explore a part-time supervisor designation.

"There is nothing that would preclude the board from opting for a (chief executive officer) position," she said.

All it would take is a change in county ordinance codes.

But there would be some restrictions on the powers supervisors could bestow on a CEO, she said.

For instance, Goldner said, supervisors don't have the power to discipline or remove the Kern County agriculture commissioner, a state-created position, and therefore could not give one of their employees that power.

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