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Where have all candidates gone in Placer County?

Our View
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Is Robert Weygandt that good? Has Gayle Garbolina-Mojica exceeded expectations for area students and parents? Has Kristin Spears improved the property tax assessment process? Has Jim McCauley streamlined county records or increased voting rates? Or is it just that Placer County is devoid of qualified candidates to challenge for such key leadership positions? These questions may sound rhetorical, until you realize these four are among several Placer County elected positions that might go uncontested in the June primary. Weygandt is the four-term supervisor for west Placer County while Garbolina-Mojica is the superintendent of county schools. Spears is the county assessor and McCauley is the clerk-recorder. Other prominent county positions currently unchallenged include county district attorney, sheriff, treasurer and three of four superior court judge seats. Unless challengers surface before Friday’s filing deadline, each of these races will be uncontested on June 8, and each incumbent will serve another term. Scott Owens, the acting assistant district attorney, would replace the retiring Brad Fenocchio as district attorney. This might speak volumes to the good work of these public officials. Placer County has endured significant change during the economic downturn, and each of these county leaders has had to pare expenses, slash payroll and meet an ever-increasing load of state and federal mandates in their respective departments. Most have demanding positions and work long hours. Most are well-compensated, and they’ve remained positive and professional in making some very difficult decisions. But if you read the Journal’s letters to the editor or online comments, or just scan the political “tea leaves” at public gatherings, school events or along Main Street, you’d hear there is plenty of room for improvement in Placer County. Residents are critical of county management and its sluggish response to a budget gap now pegged at $23 million. In the midst of this economic meltdown, the Sheriff’s Department asked – and received – a $4 million helicopter for search-and-rescue efforts. At a time when a robust discussion of important county issues and priorities should be questioned between candidates, providing voters with a choice of directions to choose from, 2010 appears to be another year of rubber-stamping the current administrative course. Is this electoral malaise, or something else? Why doesn’t the current debate about county leadership and budget management translate into qualified, viable, time- and idea-tested challengers? “It’s the economy, stupid,” former President Bill Clinton might say. Any candidate willing to tackle the rigors of a six-month campaign would need to raise tens of thousands of dollars, or hundreds of thousands in the case of a supervisor’s seat. That doesn’t come easy. The winning candidate likely will have the continued task of reducing county department staff and services. If the lonely life of the corporate downsizer played by George Clooney in “Up in the Air” is any illustration, county leadership might not be an attractive gig. Still, it’s disappointing that in a period of economic and political transition, Placer County voters won’t have choices for key leadership positions in public safety, courts, tax collection, elections and education. Competition is not only good for the private sector, but for government as well. If unchallenged, candidates should still treat the election cycle as a time to connect with county residents and measure their satisfaction. Do a “walkabout,” as local business leaders are doing Thursday in Auburn. Conduct mailed or online surveys to gauge voter satisfaction with key touch points, such as safety and social services. Get up from behind your desk and hold public forums on how your office can improve service. Elections may be the ultimate survey in community satisfaction, but in the absence of that elected representatives have a duty to seek, listen and learn from the public. In so doing, Placer County is likely to get the best person for the job – contested election or not.