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Our View: County leaders are out of touch with residents

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Our local, state and federal government face severe economic challenges. Though it’s clear to most that drastic change is needed to become fiscally responsible, it’s also clear that Placer County’s top officials are out of touch. Rather than lead the way in belt tightening, as county leaders should be doing, they appear to be taking care of each other, rather than their constituents. Taxpayers are rightfully getting fed up with the arrogant and self-serving actions of top county managers and supervisors. The Journal has published several articles recently that resonate with county taxpayers. Yet change is slow in coming. For example, Supervisor Rocky Rockholm, at the request/direction of county CEO Tom Miller, chartered a private plane to fly from Utah to attend a Lake Tahoe meeting at a cost of approximately $10,000 to taxpayers. After the flight and its cost were reported in the Journal, many taxpayers were understandably outraged. With our current budget challenges, who charters private planes to attend a meeting? Maybe rock stars, Hollywood actors or professional athletes, but certainly not a supervisor from a relatively small county that is so financially strapped it has demanded workers take furlough days. When confronted by angry taxpayers, Rockholm paid the money back out his own pocket. That was admirable. But would Rockholm have paid if he wasn’t caught? Only he could answer that question. And further, what Rockholm did not say after being confronted was that he was sorry for wasting taxpayers’ money, and that CEO Miller was wrong to suggest he should charter a private plane. That shows a lack of remorse and a lack of concern for taxpayers’ money, which is clearly out of touch with today’s economic reality. The Journal also published a story about a $1,600-plus dinner to which taxpayers’ unknowingly treated supervisors and county execs during a taxpayer-funded jaunt to Washington, D.C. in 2007. County CEO Miller, Assistant CEO Rich Colwell and supervisors Robert Weygandt, Jim Holmes and Rockholm all had scrumptious meals at taxpayers’ expense. Heck, Colwell left the waitress a $300 tip with our money. … When was the last time you took friends to dinner and dropped $1,600-plus? When was the last time you left a $300 tip? Few Placer County residents spend money like that because our money is hard-earned, and we cannot afford it. It’s time county leaders got in synch with those they are elected to represent. Again, after being confronted by a Journal reporter, with no shame or remorse, Weygandt intimated that this $1,600 dinner was really a good deal for taxpayers. Weygandt reasoned that since the county executives were lobbying then-Congressman John Doolittle, and Doolittle helped bring federal money to the county, it was somehow a bargain for taxpayers to take them all to expensive dinners. The fact is Doolittle was already being paid close to $170,000 a year to represent his constituents, which included Placer County taxpayers. It’s the congressman’s job to represent us. The notion that taxpayers have to pay to send a lobbying team to Washington, D.C. to wine and dine those already paid to represent us is — clearly — out of touch. The Journal published another story about top Placer County executives getting pay raises. The raises, awarded during this year of fiscal catastrophe, were rubber-stamped by all supervisors in attendance at a June meeting near Lake Tahoe. Placer County has a highly paid CEO and two assistant CEOs all making well more than $250,000 a year, when you include the overly generous benefits like car allowances, meal money, travel expense accounts, retirement and more. Each supervisor who voted for the executive pay raises owes taxpayers an explanation, and an apology. But we’re guessing that’s not coming. Why? Because they are out of touch. Recent Journal stories about a sweetheart county business deal with a solar power company with direct ties to Placer supervisors, their families and the companies they work for also outraged taxpayers. When questioned, supervisors Kirk Uhler and Weygandt couldn’t see a problem with the solar power deal the county entered into with a company Uhler works for. Why not? They are out of touch. There’s also the high-paying job Uhler’s wife Tami was awarded without her having to compete against a pool of qualified candidates. The $92,000-a-year job wasn’t even advertised. And CEO Miller OK’d Tami Uhler’s hiring despite the fact that he works directly under her husband. Taxpayers, rank-and-file employees and union representatives were outraged after reading the story in the Journal, and Uhler’s subsequent “explanation.” But despite promising to represent constituents, not one other county supervisor has had the courage to publicly question the inappropriate hiring. Why not? Because they are clearly out of touch. Placer County deserves leaders who share the values of those they serve. It’s time for a change.