What are the skills and strengths that the North Coast will need in its leaders in the years to come? What are the major issues that they're likely to confront? These are the questions that The Press Democrat Editorial Board is asking as we interview candidates in the June 5 primary.
Last week, we detailed our areas of concern for the congressional races. Here are the issues foremost on our minds as we interview candidates for the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and state office:
; The elephant in the room: If you look at the official 2012 platform of the California Democratic Party, there's no mention of the pension crisis that grips cities and counties. But make no mistake, it will remain the elephant in the room in budget discussions for years without real reform. We see the next generation of political leaders, state and local, as playing a critical role in solving this problem. It will require skillfully managing the budget shortfalls they can't control while exerting pressure at the state level and at the bargaining table to make changes that offer taxpayers long-term relief. This is not a problem that can be resolved through cuts. There aren't enough street lights to turn off.
; Filling potholes: Meanwhile, supervisors will need to find the money to care for the county's 1,382-mile system of roads. Because of drastically insufficient road funds and declining state support, the county has been forced to make the hard choice to virtually abandon 80 percent of the county's roads. We need leaders who will fight for funds and make wise choices on where the money that's available is to be spent.
; A power grab coming? A major issue before supervisors concerns a proposal to have the county Water Agency get into the power business. By creating an independent power company, much like Marin County's, the county would use the collective buying power of individual customers from the area to buy power contracts, primarily from alternative energy sources. It's loaded with positive environmental gains as well as long-term financial risks.
; Continued loss of institutional memory: The county has seen unprecedented changes in leadership in recent years, and the changes will continue. With Supervisor Valerie Brown stepping down, board Chairwoman Shirlee Zane and Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who are seeking re-election, would be the senior members after just one term in office. Many county managers and department heads are expected to retire soon as well. The county will depend on elected officials who will make wise hiring choices and show management foresight for a county losing institutional hindsight.
; No baggage, please: Voters need to be certain that they're being represented at the local and state levels by officials not bound by pledges to anti-tax groups, unions or any other organizations. As we've seen before, such commitments contribute to an era of entrenched partisanship and gridlock. We're more interested in hearing candidates make their own declarations of independence — and commit to putting the greater good of the state and county above the narrow interests of any single group or ideology.