This editorial is in response to a two part story, [Fire, Ice and the Great Mil Potrero Mashup: How Kern County’s Negotiation Snafu with Employees Union SEIU Led to CHP, Tow Trucks and Over 64 Vehicles to be Trapped in an Ice Storm for 15 Hours ] Part One and Part Two
We are all neighbors and we are all taxpayers. We all support efficiency in government. But efficiency does not mean neglect. It is not efficient for me to refuse to maintain my vehicles as a way to save money. We all know what not changing the oil will lead to.
Breaking things is far more expensive than maintaining them.
In the budget talks of 2016, Kern County Supervisors mourned plunging property tax revenues due to dropping oil prices. Supervisors spoke of using the crisis to strip county government down to the minimum —keeping only public safety (firefighting and law enforcement) plus, grudgingly, “the things the feds force us to do” (such as child protective services).
They won applause for privatizing management of Kern Medical, to stop hemorrhaging $50 million a year and for consolidating the county administrative structure. But the cuts spread wider and deeper, to the point of not mopping the floors or cleaning the carpets in libraries more than twice a year. Now the treasures taxpayers have invested in are starting to break.
It is widely known that skilled workers are fleeing deeper cuts and Kern County’s stagnant wages. Sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, human service workers and information technology (IT) staffers get trained here, then go elsewhere for careers.
Nearly all the credentialed librarians from the Kern County Library System are gone.
Supervisors have begun to close down branches, to dismantle a beautiful 26-branch network of community libraries so the board can convince the voters that “it’s just too broken, we need a private company (LSSI) to come in to fix it!”
For an ideologically driven politician — perhaps on the Steve Bannon end of the ideological spectrum — breaking things may seem like a good idea.
Engineering for Dysfuncton
It appears Kern County’s Board of Supervisors is ideologically enchanted with breaking things. District 4 Supervisor David Couch campaigned in 2012 on privatizing as many county services as possible. Perhaps this board wants to be able to point to the wreckage to say: “Look, government can’t do the job. Let’s farm it out to a private contractor.”
But Kern County supervisors who break things are not good stewards of the public trust. They are squandering public assets and risking lives.
On December 20, residents of the Mountain Communities became the canaries in the coal mine for this ideology.
Now we have the beginning of a “privatization model” for the roads department.
Roads Department Director Craig Pope, a straight-talking and staunch public servant, seemed a little dazed when first asked what his fallback options may be if the board of supervisors refuses to pay overtime when roads workers are called out of their beds in the night to respond to a storm.
“We’re going to ask for volunteers, and then go out to private contractors,” Mr. Pope said on December 21, after a day spent in meetings to try to figure out this problem.
The stand-off with the workers in the Kern County Roads Department is a defining moment. There has been no proof that privatizing will save money and still retain high safety standards. And road safety is a life and death issue for the people of this mountain.
A car full of children that slips off an icy road and falls over a cliff does not get a retake.
Broken government is not good government.
The notion that bringing in “volunteers and private contractors” who are unfamiliar with this terrain is naive.
In an emergency, we need the people who know this area to be there to get the job done right — quickly and efficiently — so that both workers and residents can go safely home to their families at the end of the storm.
This is part of the January 12, 2018 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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