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Right, Harley Pinson won the coin toss to introduce himself first to the Rotary Club of Frazier Park and the Mountain Communities April 4, saying he is running for the Board of Supervisors because he is fascinated by public policy and has always wanted to be in politics. Left, Opponent David Couch has been on the Bakersfield City Council for 14 years. He spoke about the growing pension debt owed by the county and the reasons Mountain Community Municipal Advisory Council members should be elected rather than appointed. Both candidates agreed on that.
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David Couch has been on the Bakersfield City Council for 14 years, and on the boards of almost all the major regional government organizetions. He said the Mountain Community Municipal Advisory Council members should be elected rather than appointed. Both candidates agreed on that.
By Patric Hedlund
Both candidates agreed last week that whoever wins the Kern County Supervisor’s race June 5 will make it a top priority to change the Mountain Communities Municipal Advisory Council (MCMAC) into an elected rather than an appointed body.
The Rotary Club of Frazier Park and the Mountain Communities hosted a candidates forum April 4, filling 40 seats at Los Pinos Restaurant in Lebec.
Candidates David Couch and Harley Pinson also agreed that the pension structure for retiring Kern County employees is leading to a crisis that needs to be averted.
Harley Pinson said county pension expenses rose from $60 million to $170 million last year and will be $200 million next year. “That means the budget for Parks & Recreation has been cut 50 percent.”
David Couch added that “if extending service hours at the beautiful new library is a local priority, then we will make it a priority, as long as there are cost cuts that can offset the additional expense.” The two candidates agreed that pensions are cutting into money available for services to county residents.
[Editor’s Note: In fact-checking Pinson’s figures, The Mountain Enterprise confirmed that Kern County’s retirement contribution vaulted from $60 million in 2005, to $206 million for 2012.
But the Parks & Recreation budget has been cut by 20 percent since its 2007-08 high point of $16 million—not 50 percent as Pinson said—according to County Administrative Analyst Alan Krauter.]
Couch said, “I am in a more trusted position to negotiate new pension terms with unions,” indicating that is an urgent priority. He has been endorsed by several public safety unions.
Pinson said he would privatize maintenance of county parks and buildings. Couch said privatizing Kern Medical Center should be considered.
Pinson has worked his entire career as a corporate attorney for the oil industry and most recently is “of counsel” to Bakersfield’s Klein Denatale Goldner law firm which represents Tejon Ranch. Robert Stine, President and CEO of Tejon Ranch Corporation and Ray Dezember (former chairman of the Tejon Ranch board of directors who is known as a Bakersfield political power-broker) support him in this race.
Couch has been on the Bakersfield City Council for 14 years, with two stints as vicemayor. He has served as the chair of LAFCO (the Local Agency Formation Commission), and the Kern County Boys & Girls Club, has been on the board of Kern Council of Governments and has served on a Bakersfield water board: “I know where the gears and levers of government are, to get things done,” he said.
Trained as an accountant, Couch has worked as an investment services manager for 24 years. He said he placed three calls to Tejon Ranch “for a briefing on their projects” but has not yet received a call back. Couch says he considers himself to be an independent “good government” candidate.
A Rotarian asked if his campaign would accept a donation from Tejon Ranch Corporation: “Sure I would,” Couch replied, “I’d also tell them that they should donate to my campaign if they want good government, but not if they are hoping I’ll just vote their way.”
The crowd chuckled as a related question was read by Rotary President Dennis Turner to Harley Pinson and called a “softball” by a member of the audience: “Will you do what is right or what a minority of environmentalists makes a ruckus about?” Pinson didn’t miss a beat in saying, “I would not look at the label on the person, but look at the argument.”
Pinson, who has never held elected office, has become an eager campaigner, springing to his feet as each question was posed to him. He made a quick vow early in the forum to make a proposal for an elected MAC one of his first acts.
Couch, who is about 6 foot 3 inches tall and attended college on a tennis scholarship, stayed seated to answer most questions directed to him. He was interested in discussing how to get things done, and said “of course your representatives should be elected rather than appointed” when asked about the MAC. He later called this reporter to request assistance from community members in deciding details of his proposal for an elected MAC, including input about whether “at-large” or regional representatives are preferred.
As a historical aside to our readers, state law describes municipal advisory councils as a mechanism for unincorporated areas to interface with state and county agencies. The MCMAC was proposed in 2006 and again in 2008 by current and former members of the Mountain Communities Town Council (and others) as a mechanism for the entire mountain area to be able to elect representatives during the general election, with their names appearing on the Kern County general election ballot.
When the bylaws prepared by the community came back from Supervisor Ray Watson in 2009, the bylaw specifying that names of Mountain Community MAC candidates would be on the county ballots was gone.
Architects of the MAC proposal—such as Fred Rose and Linda MacKay—were stunned to see the District 4 supervisor insisting on appointing his own MAC members instead of allowing the community to elect their representatives. Watson is reported to have been annoyed that 67 percent of the Mountain Community’s votes in the 2008 supervisor’s election went to his opponent (Taft City Council member Cliff Thompson).
When asked to restore the bylaw for local elections, Watson’s staff said he needed to appoint the MAC “until people up there know how to work together.” Residents did not take the insult lightly. This newspaper printed an editorial illustrating that it is the profound hands-on volunteer collaboration that makes life in the Mountain Communities possible. Watson also forbade his appointees to speak with agencies other than his office.
Watson’s appointees are Rob Peterson (an employee of Tejon Ranch Corporation, which is seeking development permits from the county); Realtor Stacey Havener, retired L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Newman, Anne Weber of the Family Resource Center (which receives program funding from Watson’s county “slush fund”) and Linda MacKay, co-founder of the Frazier Mountain Boys & Girls Club, former president of the Mountain Communities Town Council and president of the TriCounty Watchdogs.
MacKay resigned after five months, saying that the MAC had been “hijacked” by Supervisor Watson to be a rubber stamp and that she was appointed for “token diversity.” No one was appointed to fill MacKay’s seat. Several people have reported privately turning down an offer of the position.
The community has shown little interest in the appointed MAC. It often meets in a nearly empty hall, with more county employees from Bakersfield than Mountain Communities residents attending. Mountain residents, meanwhile, continue to express a strong desire to elect their own representatives. See more at: www.votecouch.com and www.harleypinson.org.
This is part of the April 13, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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