Supervisor Kristin Olsen’s new business raises questions about commitments to county

Kristin Olsen
Kristin Olsen Assembly Republican Caucus

Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen has a new business and will try to juggle that with efforts to revive the Republican Party in California and fulfill her county responsibilities.

Last week, the former assemblywoman formally launched a consulting firm, called Red Suit, to offer public relations and legislative services to clients. The firm has a Sacramento phone number and mailing address and a second mailing address in Riverbank, where she lives.

According to the news release, Olsen’s firm will offer leadership training, branding, coalition building, grass-roots mobilization, political strategy and legislative advising. Olsen said she hopes to assist clients across the state and in the Central Valley and stay mobile in operating the business.

It raises questions about how much time Olsen will spend away from county government to serve out-of-town clients and Republican causes in the state. She was appointed as vice chair of the California Republican Party last month and will try to get more Republicans elected to state office. She has also said the party needs to increase its fundraising.

As a county supervisor, Olsen is responsible for representing residents and business owners in the Oakdale-Riverbank area.

“I have always been good at time management and fulfilling my responsibilities,” said Olsen, who served in the Assembly from 2010 to 2016. “I really think I will fulfill these responsibilities and fully dedicate myself to all three of them.”

With consulting work, Olsen said, she can use her 20-year background in communications and government to help clients communicate effectively and get positive results. By law, Olsen cannot engage in lobbying for state legislation for at least 12 months. Conflict-of-interest rules prohibit her from representing anyone who has business with the county.

Olsen, who termed out of the Legislature in December, said Red Suit has already assisted some clients in health care, business and education.

As a county supervisor, Olsen is paid $78,360 a year for what is technically a part-time job, though fellow board members insist it is full-time work. By comparison, her annual salary as Assembly minority leader was $115,124.

Olsen ran unopposed in November to replace former Supervisor Bill O’Brien, who was praised for being responsive to constituents in his 12 years on the board.

Oakdale Councilman Tom Dunlop said it sounds as though Olsen could have a hard time covering all the bases. “The jury is out,” said Dunlop, who considered running for the board seat. “I don’t know her that well. We will have to see how many meetings she misses, if she misses any.”

As for other county board members, Vito Chiesa and Jim DeMartini earn their living from farming; Terry Withrow has an accounting business in Modesto and has agricultural investments; Dick Monteith is a retired state senator.

Chiesa said he is not concerned about Olsen’s out-of-county commitments. Her presence on the board is welcome due to her knowledge of state government, he said. “Thus far, she has been a model supervisor,” Chiesa said. “She calls me twice a day asking about issues. I can’t imagine (her consulting firm) will be a problem.”

Chiesa said none of the supervisors devotes less than 40 hours a week to the job. A former president of the California State Association of Counties, Chiesa often travels around the state to CSAC functions or on county-related business.

Along with attending up to four board meetings a month, supervisors are expected to attend committee and advisory board meetings. Among other duties, Olsen was assigned to O’Brien’s former slot on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board. It’s regarded as a crucial post because of conflicts between federal air quality rules and the needs of business and industry.

Olsen said she attended her first air district board meeting held in Fresno last week and has attended several community functions since she was sworn in Jan. 10.

A year ago, Olsen decided against running for the 5th Senate District seat held by Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton. Olsen said she needed to spend more time parenting her three children.

The former Modesto council member has not ruled out a bid for state Senate or another state office. In July, she reported that her “Olsen for Senate 2018” campaign fund had $495,000 in cash. The account’s name possibly referred to a bid in the 12th Senate District when Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, completes his second and final term.

“At the time I opened (the account), I did anticipate running. At this point, I don’t plan on being a candidate in 2018,” Olsen said. “I expect to fulfill my term as a county supervisor.”

Sandy Lucas, a Modesto planning commissioner who’s active with the Democratic Party, predicted that Olsen will run for Galgiani’s seat in 2020. Lucas said Olsen can probably juggle her roles as county supervisor, consultant and a statewide Republican leader.

“She is a bright lady, and she would not have taken on all this if she didn’t think she could do it. ... If she does not do her job, than she needs to resign,” Lucas said.

Olsen is campaigning for the Republican vice chair position. Her appointment in December was to complete the term of the previous vice chair who was chosen for the Republican National Committee. A convention vote in February could give Olsen a full term.

Olsen said her consulting firm will provide more flexibility for fulfilling her different responsibilities. Working in-house for a private company or organization would limit her to an employer’s schedule, she said.

“Starting my own business actually makes me a better elected official than I would otherwise be, because it allows me to personally understand the struggles that many small business owners face,” Olsen said.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321