The prospects for some bare-knuckle races for the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors were high this year given the acrimony over recent budget cuts. Yet despite the fact that three of the five seats on the board are up for re-election, voters will be deciding on only one of them on June 5.
And in that contest, we recommend they stick with a good thing and re-elect Supervisor John McCowen of Ukiah for four more years.
The other two positions have pretty much already been decided.
With 4th District Supervisor Kendall Smith having decided to step down at the end of her term in January, only Fort Bragg City Councilman Dan Gjerde has stepped in to succeed her. Fortunately, he has the credentials, energy and understanding of local government to capably represent the sprawling coastal district. Gjerde, a sixth-generation county resident, has served on the City Council since 1998 and understands the region as well as the financial challenges facing the Board of Supervisors.
First District Supervisor Carre Brown, whose area includes Potter Valley, Redwood Valley and the eastern portion of the Ukiah valley, is uncontested in her bid for reelection.
Despite rumors of possible write-in candidates, there's only one contested race at this point, and that's in the Ukiah-area 2nd District, where John McCowen is seeking election. First elected in 2008, McCowen, a former member of the Ukiah City Council, has placed himself on the front lines of the county's financial battles. While that war is a long way from being over, there's been clear progress.
Two years ago, the county faced a budget shortfall in excess of $3.5 million, was deep in debt on pension obligations and had exhausted its financial reserves. Since then the county has cut jobs, eliminated department head positions and consolidated offices in county-owned buildings, eliminating some $1 million in lease payments. And after some lengthy and difficult negotiations, the county was also able to work out an agreement with public employees for a 10 percent across-the-board pay cut. Supervisors also voted to reduce their pay 10 percent to $61,200 a year.
As a result, this fiscal year, the county passed a balanced budget, with $2.7 million in reserves, and saw its credit rating improve.
The county still has to get a handle on runaway retirement costs. But McCowen, who is serving as board chairman this year, deserves much credit for the county's roll-up-the-sleeves approach.
His opponent is Andrea Longoria, a county substance abuse counselor who was a labor negotiator during recent contract talks with county employees. She said she decided to run because the negotiations were so "disheartening." She speaks passionately about how budget cuts are hurting working families, but she lacks specifics on where supervisors could have otherwise cut to bridge the county's shortfall.
Mendocino County has a long way to go, particularly in the area of unfunded liabilities. But given his experience and commitment to getting the county's finances in order, we believe McCowen is better suited to go the distance and find the fixes that need to be made.
The Press Democrat recommends John McCowen in the 2nd District race for Mendocino County supervisor.