How loud do voters want Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors meetings to get? That’s one of the questions confronting them June 5, and perhaps again on Nov. 6.
The current board is one of the most quietly competent anywhere, going about its business of counting numbers, conducting hearings, taking votes and working things out without raising voices or too much fuss.
If voters choose Janice Keating to replace retiring Dick Monteith in District 4 and Katherine Borges to supplant incumbent Terry Withrow in District 3, it is a certainty the board meetings will become louder. That’s not necessarily a negative.
Every community needs elected officials willing to speak loudly, shout even. And it’s true that women in today’s society often have to speak more forcefully just to be heard. It’s also true that both Keating and Borges have important insights, do their homework and are natural-born leaders.
We reserve the right to recommend them in the future, but we won’t in this election.
Instead, voters should choose Withrow in District 3 and Frank Damrell III in District 4. Since there are three candidates in each race, it’s possible no candidate will top 50 percent on June 5, advancing the top two to a November runoff.
Withrow is a competent, compassionate and deeply involved supervisor. He joined the board in 2011 as the county was flailing to address the impacts of the Great Recession – deep staff cuts, staggering pension-fund shortfalls and public-safety layoffs. Withrow has helped right the ship in every category.
“We’re stronger than we’ve ever been in the history of the county,” Withrow said.
He has also been a champion of preserving the best farmland and has pushed the hardest to help the county’s homeless through Focus on Prevention.
In the intensely important battle with the state over our rivers, he has tried to be a voice of reason. In this, he’s had less success; trying to reason with the state over water is futile.
By assigning every important issue to a specific member, this board has developed an effective way of working together. But it only works when there is deep trust among members. We see absolutely no reason to disrupt this dynamic.
That said, we like Borges’ passion and dedication. Yes, she plays rough politically (as she did at our editorial board), but anyone trying to unseat a popular incumbent would use similar tactics. She tells everyone she’s “not a politician,” but her political instincts are both ferocious and effective.
She’s more than just Salida’s ex officio mayor. Her concerns about Highway 132 and nearby “toxic dirt piles” are worth investigating. But we’re not convinced her solutions – carting away 160,000 tons of contaminated dirt – would be any less of a health hazard.
Tony Madrigal is also a candidate, not quite six month after having won re-election to the Modesto City Council. He represents a middle ground on some issues, which some might see as trying to have it both ways.
This is a close call. Keating charges forward while Damrell prefers a more studied and measured approach – a better fit for this board.
“I’m a critical thinker,” he said. “I’ve been doing that as a district representative for Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, listening to all sides. … I’m not hyper-partisan; I’m very open-minded and solutions oriented.”
Keating is also a problem solver. Without her, there would be no homeless shelter in downtown Modesto, which was built during her watch on the city council. She clearly has a heart for the homeless, but less patience.
“There’s not a lot to study,” she points out. “Thirty percent are severely mentally ill, 40 percent are drug addicts and the rest are just lawless individuals who want to bother you, me and everybody else. Sometimes we need someone in their face to tell them, ‘Not here.’”
Damrell’s approach differs: “We don’t have enough beds for (the seriously mentally ill). The facilities that are here are in conservatorship beds, and they’re already filled with people from other counties. … The issue of addiction – mental health problems and addiction can co-occur, and the county has been reluctant to help some of these people. … For some reason, we keep managing the system in the most expensive way possible instead of a continuum of care.”
Both Keating and Damrell will be effective, but in different ways. Neither will harm the county.
The third candidate is departing state Sen. Tom Berryhill. We respect Berryhill’s service, but have grave concerns. First, he has spent the last eight years representing Senate District 8, which does not even include this supervisorial district.
Second, we weren’t swayed by his explanation of why he did not vote to end the “negative bailout” that cost Stanislaus County some $40 million since 1980. The deal to end it hurt a few cities while helping Stanislaus and five other counties. Berryhill had constituents on both sides, so he abstained.
Most importantly, we sincerely feel Berryhill should concentrate on regaining his health. Judging from recent public appearances, he is not up to serving as a county supervisor.