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Supervisor discusses successes, challenges

By: Interview Jenifer Gee, Journal editor
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Placer County Supervisor Kirk Uhler of Granite Bay stopped by the Journal office this week to talk about his upcoming campaign for re-election. He is running to keep his seat in the 4th District, which represents Roseville and Granite Bay. So far Pam Tobin has pulled filing documents with plans to challenge Uhler for the same seat. Uhler spoke to his record as a supervisor and the issues future boards will face. What is the current state of the county? Placer County is in good fiscal standing. We have $6 million in reserves for 2012. That’s mostly from telling the Placer County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the Placer Public Employee Organization to pay more for their benefits. (The board) has taken the tough calls politically. We are assuring those folks that with good fiscal management now, they have the opportunity to retire with good benefits. I’d like to see the county move away from a defined benefits program entirely and have a defined contribution program. What accomplishments as supervisor are you proud of? I’ve been working for five years on the county conservation plan. We’re about to submit it (to agencies involved). The plan for the county’s build out embraces growth and development where it should occur. It’s really a development plan to pay for conservation. It’s an exciting plan. As someone raised here and raising two kids in Placer County it’s exciting to see it coming to fruition. What are some infrastructure projects you’ve worked on as a member of the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency? Because Placer County did plan well we’re able to take advantage of the downturn in the market to move forward with infrastructure projects. We had funding for the Roseville bottleneck project. We also did the Auburn Folsom Road widening (between Oak Hill Drive and Eureka Road). We’ve met now a couple times with a property owner (of an un-widened stretch). Negotiations continue (to further widen the road from Eureka to Douglas Boulevard). What are some challenges that lie ahead? The South Placer Adult Correctional Facility is set to open summer 2013. We’ll be testing it in 2012. The funding will be a big challenge. It will cost $18 million a year to operate. The future board will have to figure how to manage that through what nobody thinks is a rapid rebound of the economy. A big challenge the next three to five years is the across the board retirement of senior management. There will be a tremendous drain in senior management with very little succession planning in place. It’s an opportunity to look for ways to use alternative service delivery methods, meaning contracts. County manager pay and benefits have been criticized before. Will you take the opportunity to look at salaries? Absolutely. It’s a step the board will look at. It’s easier to do when you deconstruct the large departments. If you reduce the department, you reduce the administrative costs so you can reduce the salary and what the market demands for. There’s a growing chasm between what the private sector pays versus what the public sector pays. Walmart has been approved to build in Auburn. However, it will sit inside county lines and sales tax revenue will go to the county’s general fund. Is there any planning on the board for long-term funding to mitigate the impact of Walmart in Auburn? There has not been any conversation initiated by the city. The board is receptive to those kinds of conversations if the city manager or mayor calls and wants to participate in a revenue sharing opportunity. We’re engaging in similar conversations now in Roseville and Lincoln. How are you spending the holidays? We have family here in the area. We’re blessed that my wife’s family and my family are here local. My kids go to the same school we grew up in together (Franklin Elementary in Loomis). We might get a day or two of skiing in. What else would you like to address? My wife’s job. (Editor’s note: Uhler’s wife, Tamara, was hired in July 2009 as the assistant director of child support services for $92,000 a year plus benefits. The job was not advertised. In Feb. 2010, she was among a group of managers who received a board approved raise to $99,195 a year. Uhler recused himself when the board approved the hire and was absent when the raise passed). It was offered to two other people who turned it down. It was funded, we authorized in the summer of ’08 to fill it. It wasn’t advertised. Most senior management positions are not because they are outside civil service and there is no posting requirement. It’s almost always done on direct recruitment. Why not advertise those jobs? I suppose he (Troy Held, director of the Dept. of Child Support Services) could have. It’s up to the individual department head how they go about recruiting. I’m not going to second guess any department head as long as it’s consistent with county policy. Would you consider changing county policy for more transparency? What’s the point of putting them through that exercise? It’s completely subjective. The budget process is the way the public can be involved. That’s when we show individual positions. That’s where the level of accountability and scrutiny should be. Anything else you’d like to talk about? (Editor’s note: Uhler also wanted to address questions surrounding his ownership and involvement with Solar Power Inc. Solar Power Inc. received a contract from the county in 2007 to build a ground-based facility to supply power to the county’s juvenile detention center.) Up until 2006 90 percent of all solar projects were negotiated agreements, not public bids. At the time of my agreement the county had four different solar projects. In 2004 there was a state law exempting solar projects from public bid. I worked as a private citizen (at Solar Power Inc.) before I was a supervisor. I tried to get Health and Human Services and the garage, but I didn’t. I lost those. I began meeting with the county on the juvenile detention center in 2005. It came to terms in spring 2006 and to the board in September 2006. I was back on the board after (now State Sen.) Ted Gaines resigned in December 2006. I left Solar Power Inc. at the end of July 2009. I was paid as a consultant through the remainder of the year. I didn’t exercise my options on the shares. I’ve now got out of the solar business all together. I haven’t worked on a solar project in the last year and a half.