Local Politics

Saturday, Nov 17 2012 02:00 PM

Transformation of Board of Supervisors brings challenges, opportunities

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    In this June photo, then-5th District supervisorial candidate Leticia Perez greets well wishers and reporters at the Carpenter's Hall on 20th Street. Perez won the seat.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    In this file photo, David Couch, just-elected 4th District Kern County supervisor, meets and greets some of his supporters including Chris Sheehan at Prime Cut on Brimhall Road.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    In this file photo, Mick Gleason, then-candidate for 1st District Kern County supervisor, greets Kat Gardner at Chatterbox Cafe in Wofford Heights. Gleason won the seat.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

It's been nearly a century since the Kern County Board of Supervisors has seen a shake-up in its makeup as sweeping as the one that begins in January.

Three new supervisors will take their place on the five-member board. The last time that happened was in 1917.

Conservative financial advisor David Couch and retired Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake commander Mick Gleason, plus Democratic lawyer Leticia Perez, all proved to be gritty, determined and resourceful during this year's election campaigns.

But they have very different backgrounds and all come to the county with limited understanding of how the nuts and bolts of the massive bureaucracy fit together.

This historic change intrigues people who watch the Board of Supervisors.

"Normally you can see where the power structure will go. I've always been able to see where the power structure will go," said Chuck Waide, the retiring regional director of the Kern County chapter of the Service Employees International Union, the county's largest employee group. "This time I don't know."

READY

All three incoming members say they're ready to tackle the challenges they'll face. They're finalizing their office staff lists and focusing on their top issues.

Gleason said he plans to reach out to all of the communities in the far-flung 1st District and build on the relationships he began to form with them during the just-finished general election campaign. Then, he said, he will attack the business of understanding county government.

Couch and Perez have been thinking about what they will do since they won their seats in the June primary.

Couch said he is focused on making sure 4th District residents see no break in services from their supervisor.

"There's an area in (unincorporated) Taft that definitely needs some code enforcement attention," he said. And there may be a chance for a partnership between the county, Wasco and a parks district in the rural community that would improve services there.

Couch has hired Ryan Schultz, who helped him on his campaign, to be a staffer. But he isn't ready to say who his chief of staff or other workers will be.

Perez has named Kim Schaefer, a district representative for Congressman Jim Costa, to be her chief of staff and hired Anna Laven, an educational consultant with a doctorate in educational leadership from UCLA.

Perez's top priority is to build a jobs plan for the county, but specifically her 5th District, that pulls together economic development, job training and education organizations to train workers for industries interested in locating in Kern County.

Then she hopes to tackle infrastructure problems for business and residents in the 5th District and aggressively deal with animal control problems the county has been struggling with for decades.

FIRST DANCE

Observers agree that all three new members will face a learning curve in understanding how the county operates, the internal politics of the board and the day-to-day logistics of effective leadership.

Former 2nd District Supervisor Don Maben said Couch and Perez, who have experience in office (Couch) or politics (Couch and Perez) will have less of a challenge in adapting to the board.

Gleason, Maben said, "He'll have the biggest learning curve."

Perhaps the biggest challenge members will face is adapting to each other.

"I think it's like a freshman at a high school dance. There is going to be a feeling-out period. When you're on a board you really need to know how the other guy is going to react," said Michael Turnipseed of the Kern County Taxpayers Association.

Couch said something similar.

"It takes a while for people to gel and work together. I don't expect for there to be any conflicts," he said.

But observers see a number of different dynamics playing out and some of them could involve conflict.

When they were on the Bakersfield City Council together, Supervisor Mike Maggard and Couch were closely allied and often clashed with clients of GOP consultant Mark Abernathy, who ran campaigns for Supervisor Zack Scrivner and Gleason.

Perez is the only Democrat in a sea of Republicans, though the posts are technically non-partisan.

"Couch will become more conservative, like Maggard. I think they will probably work a lot together," Waide said. "You would think that Gleason and Scrivner would stick together. Then you've got Leticia Perez sitting out there with no ties to anyone."

He sees the possibility that Maggard and Couch could team up against Scrivner and Gleason, leaving Perez in the position of deciding many issues with her swing vote.

"She could be in a position to be the tie-breaker. Or she could be an outcast," he said. "If they do team up, she's going to be out there. If they do divide into two camps, she could be in a position of power."

But Scrivner, Couch and Maggard are all former members of the Bakersfield City Council and that, some say, could be another strong bond.

BALANCE

Turnipseed said he does not see that kind of factionalism developing.

"I don't expect any big drawn-out discussions or fights," he said.

Maggard, who will likely take over as board chairman in January, said he thinks the trivialities of politics will drop away in light of the challenges the county faces.

"When I came in, there was a lot of speculation" about conflicts with Abernathy clients, he said.

None of that happened.

"I do not think that will be an issue. The issues are so huge that they go beyond that. You must do the right thing," not play politics, he said.

The board will need the new members to immediately bring fresh eyes to the recent controversy over its health care management plan and help the county move beyond it. They will be asked to jump into the debate over the planned California High-Speed Rail system and help the board repair a relationship with county unions that was damaged by recent negotiations.

Turnipseed said the members will also need to commit to doing the public's business in public.

"The biggest thing the board needs to do immediately is try to restore credibility," he said. "The Segal report (about the health care management plan) shows that something went terribly wrong on the process on the 5th floor. They all should have known better. Things like conducting business in the back room rather than on the dais concern people."

NEW EYES

Board members and observers also said what may ultimately develop is a strong, diverse board made up of individuals with valuable individual viewpoints.

And that, they said, could be good.

"The best thing about transition is that you get a fresh look and sometimes people bring a perspective that's missing," Maggard said. "We have three talented people with very different backgrounds. Isn't that what you want?"

Turnipseed said healthy debate isn't going to hurt the board or county, and could help.

"They all come from a different point of view, but that's not all bad as long as we hash it out in public," he said.

Perez said she sees the diversity and sweep of new faces on the board as an opportunity, and that she knows she'll be able to work with the current members.

"We need each other. We're a new board," she said. "I'm so optimistic about moving forward. We all have a lot to learn."

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