Looking Behind the Scenes: Supervisors’ hat-switch wobbles on smell test

By: Jim Ruffalo
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Balancing the notebook while preparing to run over to my local supermarket to get an estimate on tomatoes. Never knew they were made out of petroleum ... Meanwhile, I saw another estimate Tuesday morning at the Placer County Board of Supervisors meeting. This estimate showed there may be more opposition to an upcoming project than many of us thought. The board starts every meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance, then quickly moves to Public Comment, which normally is as well attended as a Steve Poizner rally in Baja. Notice I said “usually.” Tuesday was an exception because at least six residents from the area to be affected by the new Costco/Wal-Mart or whatever they’re planning to build on Highway 49 and Canal Street were primed for comment to the unwary supes. All of the commenters were well-mannered and respectful, but all were also highly concerned at what this mega-project will mean for their various neighborhoods. Five of the six dwelled on what the increased traffic will do to their bucolic corners of the world, but Paula Celick had a different concern. Yes, the same Paula Celick who also asks pointed questions at various Republican Party gatherings throughout the village. Her comment, mostly in the interrogatory form, concerned the board’s practice of what it calls “changing hats” to morph from one government entity to another. Case in point is when the board suddenly quits being the board and – magically – suddenly becomes a redevelopment agency (RDA). And it was that RDA experience that was the crux of Celick’s question. She wanted an explicit answer as to whether or not the Placer County Board of Supervisors, while sitting as the RDA, is in fact the same entity which bills itself as the Auburn Bowman Redevelopment Agency. A seemingly innocuous question, but one fraught with hidden legalities down the line. Which might be the reason that what passed for an answer consisted of a few board members shaking their heads in the affirmative. Later, Celick was quick to point out that the board does nothing illegal when it changes hats and morphs into another entity. On the other hand, she’s also quite correct in pointing out such a metamorphosis hardly passes the vaunted smell test ... More comment: But wait! I’m not done with the Public Comment. Also availing himself to the right of every citizen was Chuck Thiel, a business representative for the Stationary Engineers Local No. 39, a union representing county employees. In the brief few minutes allotted by Public Comment rules, Thiel laid out a concise suggestion that could help avoid the animosity which accompanied the most recent negotiations between the county and its workers. Among his suggestions worthy of future discussion was one called a “Voluntary Separation Program,” which could well be a Golden Handshake, although nobody used that latter term except me. Basically, it calls for a county employee to voluntarily accept a layoff. In doing so, he or she would be paid $1,100 for every year worked for the county, up to a maximum of $50,000. The county would also pay the COBRA charges to keep the medical insurance coverage active. Sounds like a lot, until you figure in what the county’s share of the $450 per week in unemployment benefits a laid-off worker would get (for more than a year) as well as the costs of the COBRA coverage. It sounded interesting and should be explored. In fact, to be candid, the Public Comment portion easily was the most interesting part of the whole meeting. Forthcoming: My sincere thanks to Supervisor Jim Holmes, county chief exec Tom Miller and county counsel Tony LaBouff, all of whom hastened to try to provide some insight into last week’s rumors column. That was where we pointed out the rumors of a state attorney general’s office foray into the county, leaving all of us to wonder what the target was. The three aforementioned county officials all noted that a recent AG’s-staff appearance had to do with what is best described as a “head’s-up advisory” as to how Placer County would best adhere to upcoming regulations concerning greenhouse gases. While it’s interesting to see how the state prioritizes its duties, and while also noting that those three were open and forthcoming in trying to avert future rumors, I can say that the recent AG visit had nothing to do with greenhouse gases. I will say that it does have a lot to do with an energy source, namely that solar power farm located within the comfy confines of DeWitt Center. Reach Jim Ruffalo at