It's a new era for Sonoma County government.

The challenges are the same — maintaining roads, facilitating economic development and controlling costs, especially pensions, in an era of fiscal austerity. What's new are the people in charge.

The past four years have seen an almost complete turnover in the county's top administrative and elected posts. After this year's elections, no supervisor will have served for more than one term.

As it completes this transition, the county needs independent leaders who won't postpone tough decisions, who aren't beholden to special interests, who are willing to try new approaches.

During her first term, Supervisor Shirlee Zane demonstrated these attributes, emerging as an advocate for pension reform, mental health and early intervention programs. We think she has earned a second term.

Her opponent in the 3rd District, representing Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, is Tim Smith, a former Rohnert Park mayor who also ran for the board in 2008. His campaign is focused on two issues: the county's failure to seek competitive bids before renewing a garbage contract for 20 years and its failure to act on pension reform.

On the first issue, he's right. The board, tempted by the prospect of a larger franchise fee, bypassed an opportunity to seek a better deal for ratepayers.

While we agree that controlling retirement costs must be a top priority for the board, Zane deserves credit for her first-term contributions.

Along with fellow freshman Supervisor David Rabbitt, she crafted the objectives that will guide the board through contract negotiations with unions representing county workers.

They include capping benefits and raising the retirement age, increasing public oversight over the pension fund, establishing a debt policy and reducing retirement costs to 10 percent of payroll. Zane also pressed her colleagues to leave several top county jobs open until a new retirement plan is created.

Four years ago, we placed her in the second tier of candidates seeking an open seat on the board, citing her lack of experience in local government. Zane learned quickly, and she's now well versed in the budget and other county responsibilities.

The pension objectives are just one example of her successful transition from managing a nonprofit agency, the Council on Aging, to serving on a board responsible for a $1.2 billion budget, almost 3,500 employees and services ranging from law enforcement and incarceration to mental health and water.

Zane can point to several other accomplishments, including the airport expansion plan and an upstream investment initiative that gives funding priority to programs that reduce future demand for costlier criminal justice, drug addiction and child welfare programs.

She also worked to re-establish a mental health crisis intervention team that can assist law enforcement agencies, potentially preventing tragedies such as the death of Jeremiah Chass, a teenager shot by deputies responding to a call for help after a mental breakdown.

Zane has gained valuable knowledge and experience, and The Press Democrat recommends her in the June 5 primary.