The best of 'us' should run for local office in Stanislaus County

July 13, 2013 

DN Riverbank votes

Debbie Noda/ Edward Holt, seals his provisional envelope after voting at the RiverbankCommunity Center polling place. Voters turn out for the Riverbank city council race, June 4, 2013.

DEBBIE NODA — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

— There's an unfortunate "them" vs. "us" attitude toward elected officials these days — and some of it is deserved.

We share the frustration of many local citizens when "those people" in Washington, D.C., can't seem to agree on anything.

But our republic relies on citizens to step forward as representatives/leaders and the "us and them" conflict isn't as strong when it comes to the local boards and councils. The Nov. 5 election is entirely about these local positions, and the people who will ultimately fill these seats are our friends, neighbors and in some cases family members. "They" are people we work with, see at the supermarket or sit in the stands with at concerts and football games.

There is another important dimension to local decision making that tends to be overlooked: City council, school board and irrigation district board seats are nonpartisan. That doesn't mean that the political parties don't weigh in and influence campaigns, but it does mean that office holders don't have to answer to the party bosses or caucuses.

Also, there is far less — we won't say there is none, because that would be naive — deal making. You vote for my proposal and I'll vote for yours. On a well- functioning board, members can have a split vote on one agenda item and move on to agree unanimously on something else. We see that frequently with the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors these days and on the Turlock Irrigation District and Modesto City Schools board. There is a sense of civility.

The four-week filing period opens Monday for more than 150 positions on school boards, councils, special district boards and municipal advisory councils. Special districts provide some of the most basic services — fire protection, sewer service and water — and yet frequently there aren't enough candidates for these boards. We suspect that many rural residents, those outside of a city, aren't aware how many different agencies serve them and how many need citizen leaders.

Every year, we encourage people to consider running for office. In the past, we've cited the need for the three C's — character, competence and commitment. A couple of years ago we added another C — courage, because it surely takes some courage to make tough decisions that will anger and disappoint some or even many people.

In the last few years, we've become increasingly concerned that elected officials are not fully engaged in budget decisions.

We're not talking about how much is spent on police cars or pipes, whether or not one employee is performing better than another. We're talking about the ways today's votes on bargaining unit contracts will affect the budget for many years into the future. Many agencies relied on furloughs to solve the yearly budget, but failed to make long-term adjustments.

Some simply want to get back to "normal" — which means the way things were being done, and the way money was being spent, a decade ago.

The problems in the Denair Unified School District can be directly attributed to the failure of its leaders — administrators and the school board — to face the reality of declining enrollment and fewer state dollars. Three positions on the Denair board are up in this year's election.

In Patterson, school board members in 2009 committed to sell $16 million in bonds to pay for building projects that will cost property owners $120 million by the time they're paid off in 2049. Was that a deliberate choice, or were they simply misled by financial advisers with no stake in the long-term cost?

So we've come to think that candidates need to have some financial savvy and foresight about how today's decisions will influence choices for the future.

Sometimes it seems that we expect too much of our elected leaders — honesty, hard work, smarts and a thick skin, all for relatively small amounts of money. That's true, but we also are confident there are capable people in our community to serve in these roles.

Some of the best probably need to be encouraged to run for office, but these leaders are among us. It isn't a matter of "them," but of identifying the best among "us."


Openings in the Nov. 5 consolidated district election:


• Ceres (2 seats)

• Modesto (3 seats: Districts 2, 4 and 5)

• Waterford (1 seat)


• Stanislaus County Board of Education (3 seats: Areas 1, 2 and 5)

• Ceres Unified School District Board (3 seats: Districts 3, 5 and 6)

• Chatom Union School District Board (3 seats)

• Denair Unified School District Board (3 seats: 2 full-term, 1 short-term)

• Empire Union School District Board (3 seats)

• Gratton School District Board (3 seats)

• Hart-Ransom Union School District Board (3 seats)

• Hickman Community Charter District Board (2 seats)

• Keyes Union School District Board (3 seats)

• Knights Ferry Elementary School District Board (3 seats)

• Modesto City Schools District Board (5 seats: 4 full-term, 1 short-term)

• Oakdale Joint Unified School District Board (3 seats)

• Paradise Elementary School District Board (2 seats)

• Patterson Joint Unified School District Board (3 seats: Areas 2, 4 and 6)

• Riverbank Unified School District Board (3 seats)

• Roberts Ferry Union School District Board(3 seats)

• Shiloh School District Board (2 seats)

• Sylvan Union School District Board (3 seats)

• Turlock Unified School District Board (3 seats: Areas 2, 4 and 6)

• Valley Home Joint School District Board (2 seats)

NOTE: There are more than 60 openings on irrigation district boards, other special district boards and municipal advisory councils.


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