Though the May 8 forum for District 1 supervisor was sparsely attended, those in the audience asked a lot of questions.
The three candidates spent nearly two hours addressing constituents’ concerns that ranged from the economy to schools to water.
Lee Anne Schramel, representing the League of Women Voters, the forum’s sponsor, condensed and posed the questions to challengers Michelle Gault and Bill Powers, and incumbent Terry Swofford.
The evening evolved into two distinct choices: inexperience versus experience. Gault has never held public office, but believes her enthusiasm and commitment offset that lack. Powers served eight years on the City Council and four years on the Board of Supervisors and Swofford is completing his first term as a county supervisor.
The three share something in common: they have all been teachers. Gault taught preschool, while Powers and Swofford taught at the high school level. Powers still teaches at Long Valley Charter School.
Though the supervisors have no control over the school district, they were asked to weigh in on school closures, busing students and the overall problems in schools.
Swofford was cautious when discussing schools and said the county counsel had advised the supervisors to “not get too involved.” He did say that he didn’t want to see schools closed.
Powers likened closing schools to heart surgery. “Lose the heart — then you die. It’s valuable to the lifeblood of the community.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” Gault said of school closures, though she thought the two Quincy elementary schools should be combined. She was the only candidate to respond to busing. “It’s too dangerous,” she said.
When it came to the overall problems facing schools, all three pointed toward the economy, but had slightly different solutions.
Gault said it was important for the students in the public and charter schools to get back together and “combine resources.”
“There are three trained teachers up here,” Powers said. “We all love kids.” He said he favored some sort of combined public and charter school scenario similar to the Greenville model, and offering students electives and vocational options.
Swofford harkened back to 1975 when “the school district was the second richest in the state thanks to timber.” He compared receiving funding from the Secure Rural Schools Act to receiving welfare. “We need timber receipts back,” he said.
In addressing the economy, the candidates were asked, “Plumas County is facing drastic economic issues. What would you have done differently?”
Powers would have liked to be re-elected four years ago and continue the work that he had started. He said that when it comes to budgets, every department wants to hold on to what it has. “We need to put everyone in the same room,” so that they can work together, he said. Powers advocated cooperation and working together in many of his answers.
“We need to look at a lot of the regulations we have here in the city, county and state — that’s what’s killing our industry,” Swofford said. “We are trying to do business with our hands tied behind our back.” He continued to advocate for timber and said, “That’s our main industry here.”
Gault said that she would go back to the poisoning of Lake Davis. “I would have lobbied for more money to help our economic development,” she said.
The candidates were then asked which county departments they would cut given the size of the deficit, which is projected to be between $1 million and $1.5 million.
“I would get together all the department heads and look at their policies and procedures,” Gault said. She cited taking a jail tour and learning that a $5 background check can cost the county $58.
“The departments have been squeezed and squeezed until there’s not much juice left,” Powers said. He said that Gault had a good idea and that something like a background check process could be streamlined.
Swofford said the supervisors were considering going to four nine-hour days, which would translate into a 10 percent cost savings.
Powers responded that he was not in favor of that plan because it meant a 10 percent cut to everyone’s pay. “People are just scraping by now,” he said.
Swofford said that was preferable to layoffs. “It’s better to have a pay check than no pay check,” he said.
The candidates were asked, “What plans do you have to improve the economy and provide jobs?”
Swofford cited the county’s hiring of an economic development director who has a good background. “We also have fiber optics coming to town,” Swofford said. “People can move here and operate a business.”
Gault favored putting signs on Bay Area highways to bring visitors to the area.
Powers touted Plumas Rural Services’ decision to buy the cogeneration plant in Loyalton, which will put 93 people back to work. “Half the people come from Plumas County,” he said.
The candidates were also asked how they would help people avoid losing their homes to foreclosures.
“It’s beyond county government to stop it,” Swofford said, and told about a friend who lost his home to foreclosure despite trying to work with the bank.
“As a supervisor I would try to educate people,” Gault said. “I would let them know what’s available.” She said she would also work with the district attorney to prevent illegal foreclosures.
Powers agreed with Gault and said it was important to educate the public. And though he acknowledged that supervisors “have a limited effect on foreclosures,” he said the supervisors could help address unemployment so that people would have jobs and could pay for their homes.
The next question focused on water: “Water is a key asset in our county. How would you use it for the betterment of the community?”
Gault said she would encourage people to “come visit our lakes; come enjoy our streams.” She said she would also try to sell some of it.
“Water is everything to us,” Powers said. “The city has a river running right through it.” He said it was important for people to stop talking about the poisoning of Lake Davis and instead emphasize its fishing.
“We need to use more of it and keep lawns looking good,” Swofford said. He also said that he had received complaints from people who said they had to pay to access the lake.
The candidates were also asked what they would do if the city of Portola decided it didn’t want to own the water treatment plant.
“The treatment plant is due to be turned over to the city,” Swofford said. “The city needs to own and operate it.” He also cautioned that the state is looking at water rights allocations and if the city balked at operating the plant, the state could take the rights.
“I don’t believe they could,” Gault said. She said the treatment plant was a burden on either the county or city and thought it should be given to the state to operate.
“The city should own it and regulate it,” Powers said.
Being a supervisor
“How many hours a week would you devote to being a supervisor?’ Schramel asked the candidates.
“As my wife can attest, 24 hours a day,” Powers said. “You are either doing it, worrying about it or thinking about it.”
He said that being a supervisor was a “never-ending process.”
Swofford said he never used to live by a calendar, but he must do so now with three to four meetings a day, plus evening and weekend work.
“As much time as it takes to see goals and results,” Gault said. “It’s one thing to attend a meeting, it’s another thing to do something about it.” She said it’s important to see results.
The candidates were asked to name their top priority for the next term.
“Make sure the general plan is done and implemented,” Swofford said. He has been working on the plan since he was elected into office. “Also I want to make sure our law enforcement is not shortchanged.”
“My priority is to get the economy rolling again and county services,” Powers said, and cited the cogeneration plant as a step in the right direction.
“Stimulate the economy and economic development,” Gault said. She wants to focus on tourism and lobby for schools, hospitals and the sheriff’s office. “I wouldn’t want my son working in that jail,” she said.
Some questions were directed at specific candidates. Gault was asked what qualified her to be a supervisor.
“I don’t have any political experience,” Gault said, “but a restaurant is kind of similar to county government” because you must have “great customer service.” Gault has managed a restaurant for the past six years. “What I lack in experience, I make up for in enthusiasm and dedication,” she said.
Powers was asked what he would do differently from his last term.
“Win re-election,” he said. He added that he would fight to get back on the executive board in Sacramento where he could benefit the county.
Swofford was asked why he opposed a fee increase for the waste pickup companies.
“Right now people are suffering,” Swofford said. He said he was also able to stop evergreen contracts and take out the guaranteed 10 percent profit.
The candidates were each given two minutes to share some final thoughts — but with a twist. They were asked to include “a specific personal accomplishment benefiting the county” that they were “most proud of.”
“I think we have made good moves in getting our garbage contract under control,” Swofford said. “We’ve got the general plan almost complete.”
“As I’ve not been involved, my biggest accomplishment is getting involved,” Gault said. She said that she works full-time and then gets home and goes to her computer so that she can learn. She said that she has the passion and energy to go the extra mile.
“Terry, Bill and I want your votes. But don’t vote for us because you like us or because we are your friends,” Gault said. She asked audience members to vote for the best candidate.
Powers said, “I was a supervisor once before, but I was too busy doing my job to think about how I was doing. We accomplished things as a team.”
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