Candidate’s Night in Loyalton 050312
A Fringe On-The-Spot Report
Tuesday night saw a crowd of regulars get together at the Loyalton Social Hall to meet the candidates. It was Kafkaesque.
Brooks Mitchell, probably representing Rotary, noted the meeting was also sponsored by something called the “Sierra Boomer” which he said was the only newspaper on his side of the county; Big Shout to my many loyal non-readers in Loyalton. The event was humorously MCed by Rick Roberti, who managed to keep the gathering from building itself into a fist-fight, Loyalton style.
Candidates present included Lee Adams, District 1 supervisor candidate and the incumbent; Paul Roen, District 3 supervisor candidate. These gentlemen had the good sense and foresight to run unopposed, and I for one encourage voters to select candidates with that kind of political savvy.
Also present were candidates for two contested offices, Superior Court Judge and District 4, Loyalton.
The Superior Court race between Kennelly and Christian is marked by having two well qualified and closely matched candidates, save for one thing: Kennelly is the incumbent, and judges are far more likely to be re-elected than some other offices.
Tough Choice: Kennelly and Christian
There was a mild slugfest between Christian and Kennelly, just enough of a scuff to remind us these are both lawyers, and like sharks, will eat each other. However, the race may not always go to the swift, but it does generally go to the incumbent.
The candidates introduced themselves: Kennelly has been a judge since 2005 when he was appointed by Arnold S. He was an attorney for twenty years before that, practicing in Orange County, and following clean air and open space north until he came to Truckee in 1989, and moved to Sierra County in 2000. He has a number of endorsements, including Larry Allen and the local Deputy Sheriff’s Association. Remember those endorsements.
Sidonie Christian is local right down to the way she says “Loyalton”. Like anybody who wants to make a living as an attorney she had to leave the area to get her start. She served in a number of positions as an attorney, and served the district attorney in Yolo County busting evil drug dealers, and briefly served the public defender’s office in Mendocino, and for a time decided to become a teacher, and later a law enforcement officer. She nearly finished law enforcement training when an injury sidelined that career. She practiced law in Nevada City and has served courts in several surrounding counties. She set up an office in Downieville in 2009 at which time she ran for Superior Court Judge, but was sidelined by a medical issue. She’s better, she’s back, and she wants to be judge.
Then, the mood turned a little nasty, lawyer nasty. Christian noted that she didn’t take an endorsement from cops because it might make it seem she was beholden to cops, who are often before the judge, and even before Kennelly right now. She suggested there was some loss of impartiality if a judge was endorsed by cops. Your Fringe Editor will assure you that having cops endorse you absolutely will not cause me to be more likely to vote for you. Cops can legally lie, and legally do other unsavory things, and seriously, that isn’t the kind of endorsement you want. Even so, it was something of a struggle to construe that the endorsement of the cops, or of DA Larry Allen for that matter, might cause the judge to be any more predisposed to these fellow bureaucrats than they already are by culture and association. Still, it was a good shot.
Kennelly fired back by questioning her actual attorney experience and referring to the California Bar Association or some such official website that listed her as missing in action from 2001 to 2007, meaning she wasn’t practicing law during that time. She denied that. She then questioned his connections with the county, which are darn good.
Kennelly is also presiding judge, and since there are only two judges and he has seniority, he’s kind of a shoe in for that.
Pat Whitley asked Kennelly what the presiding judge did, and it won’t come as any shock to Prospect readers that it means he’s a bureaucrat essentially answering to the state.
Brooks Mitchell asked about the regional courthouse in Portola. Making the trip to Downieville from Loyalton is difficult particularly in winter, and it sucks gas uphill and burns out tires and brakes going downhill, and anyway, there’s something odd about Downieville, people there don’t get enough sun. Nobody said it, but we all know it. Kennelly replied that he had encouraged the use of the facility, which was such a big deal when it opened, but funding cuts mean it isn’t possible to use it now.
Kennelly found a chance to talk about AB 109, the great idea by the state to return prisoners to counties, thereby reducing state costs and ducking a court decision declaring there are way too many people in CA prisons. Kennelly did a great job of describing the program, noting that there won’t be a big influx of dangerous felons into the county, and reassuring everyone that there is plenty of room in our jail (a fact that is not equally reassuring to everyone).
A couple of things became clear from this portion of the evening: both these people want to be judge, and both have experience dealing with trial court law, family court, and so on. Personally, I like Sidonie, and like the fact that she’s tried a couple of careers, since it makes her a broader and more interesting person.
However, Kennelly already has the job and he’s doing it well. He’s been busy visiting people in the county, and at this point, though I’d like to see Christian as a Sierra County judge, I’m going to make an early prediction on a Kennelly victory. Still, Christian seems broad minded and legally skilled, and we’re lucky to have two qualified candidates in this race. There’s still time for an upset, some disgusting personal predilection, or a regretted but still disqualifying youthful indiscretion, though of course even that revelation might have a mixed response from voters. Let’s see what happens!
Then, the debate between the candidates for District 4. Readers are cautioned that this section is rated PG for adult language and supernatural themes.
Tough Fight: Mike Moore and Jame Beard promise more fireworks ahead
Mike Moore is well known here, has lived in the county 29 years, is married to a local gal, has been a teacher and superintendent of schools, and has served on the Loyalton City Council. Moore claimed a reasonable number of successes at those positions, demonstrating that he is, at least, a skilled bureaucrat and administrator. On the city council he, and others, ratified Loyalton’s portion of the General Plan, which expanded the sphere of influence and left areas for infill, but which didn’t grab the mass of new territory some people wanted. He also stirred the stinking pot of Loyalton Sewage. He noted that prior to the council he sat on, the sewer system was draining the general plan. They raised the fees. Moore was, as he often is, both laid-back and nervous at the same time. He’s been in the area a long, long time, which means he has acquired plenty of both friends and enemies. However, it was clear that Moore has a good deal of experience with governance and the function of governmental agencies.
James Beard has only been in the area a few years, but his wife is a local gal with roots going back to the early days of the Sierra Valley, and his son has spent most of his school years here. He’s a member of the Loyalton City Council, which has enjoyed a new vitality under the direction of Pat Whitley, Brooks Mitchell and Beard himself, though they took over from a council that had spent itself dealing with the sewer project, and other nerve wracking experiences of governance of an entity during declining years and hard times. Beard and the current council have, he says, balanced the sewer budget. They raised fees. They also went through grueling and tight fisted negotiations with the city’s employees, currently one full time and two or three part time workers.
The candidates addressed the most serious problems facing Loyalton and Sierra County. Moore said the most serious problem is that the economy is in the dumper, a bland answer which was redeemed by the obvious.
Beard, though, launched into a strange place, the land where the Board of Supervisors somehow has control over the state of California. It’s an idea, like the one where there are hot young girls who want old man sex, that has no basis in reality, but still won’t die. Beard insisted that regulation was the problem, pleasing the crowd but betraying his complete ignorance of the Board of Supervisors and what it does.
Cindy Ellsmore, former county Treasurer-Tax Collector and member of High Sierra Rural Alliance questioned Beard on which regulations, specifically, he was referring to. Beard referred to zoning ordinances, which are generally governed by a complex hierarchy of procedures generally dictated by state law. Ellsmore, who is well qualified in this area, told Beard this was state law, he denied it.
Mike Moore was rational on the subject: “I don’t see how” changing the general plan is going to negate the economic realities of the recession. But, “rationality” was not the theme of the moment.
The discussion declined in to what was clearly a set up for Moore, with detractors attacking on general themes of “if you build it, they will come”. Somehow Moore’s antagonists believed that building houses meant money would come. At one point Beard said “build million dollar houses” because them people bring money.
The idea is so barren it’s hard to know which fragile limb to kick at. Why would people who build large, lavish houses move to Loyalton, of all the places in the world? If they did, locals would discover how little they would spend locally, but how many services they would demand. It is a truism in land use that residential areas are the necessary evil of cities, and indeed some cities literally have no residential areas. Clearly it isn’t true that Loyalton’s future somehow lies in suburbia.
Anne Eldred spoke, asking if either candidate had been blessed by state ethics training. Mike Moore had.
Tom Dotta stood to again blame the General Plan for the loss of business and vigor in Loyalton, and insisted that Loyalton needed people and jobs. Moore agreed, but again tried to anchor the discussion in the realm of the real by noting that no small rural counties in California are thriving. Down the discussion a ways Moore would answer the allegation that the town needed more housing development by noting that there are vacant houses begging in Loyalton and Sierra Brooks.
The question came about “junky houses” around and in Loyalton. People are deeply bothered by junky houses, the kind of houses which represent the decay of a town. Yet, somehow no one mentioned the biggest, gloomiest, most concrete evidence of Loyalton’s decay: the old hotel, which is, as we’ve noted before, just one drunken hobo away from a town fire. The hotel is located at the dog-leg of 49; there is almost no way to avoid its vacant visage. Instead, people want to pick on their own number, singling out poor people and harassing them for having old equipment or rambling abandoned buildings.
Moore pointed out the obvious: the houses are run down because the owners can’t afford to improve them, and if the city wants to move against them, they could place a lien on them and eventually tear them down, but it would be difficult and expensive. He might have added that it was private property they were talking about, properties which, along with everything else, would be improved if Loyalton every returns to full life, or that the owners had rights.
Beard took a stance that suggested he was flushing the rats out of crack houses and stated that the City Council was sending letters to the owners of those houses. He did not mention the hotel.
Brooks Mitchell asked how Moore could be an effective supervisor for Loyalton when he didn’t have the support of the city council. Moore replied he could work with anybody, but accuracy should have required him to qualify everyone to those “who can comport themselves in a professional manner” but he didn’t, so who knows who he’ll eventually have to work with if elected.
Beard then launched into an effort to make it seem as though Moore were lying about his participation in the sewer contract. Moore left the council just as the sewer problem was looming over the city. He had supported the sewer rate increase, (a move which relieved the general fund of sewer costs and prepared the city for the cost of sewer improvement) and he moved to approve the notice of intent to seek USDA funding for the sewer upgrade, and he entered in to the contract with Ecologic, the engineer who saw the sewer project through. Beard struggled to make Moore seem like a liar, and Moore did participate in the early steps of getting the sewer upgraded, but, so what? The City was looking at fines and had to do something; they did what poor towns do, they got cheap loans and grants and fixed the problem. Yeah, sewer costs more now, several times more, get used to the 21st Century in California. People in Loyalton are broke and $75 to $125 a month is a hell of a hit to take a poop, but like the other complaints aired by the group, their dissatisfaction is based on regulations far away from Loyalton and Sierra County.
Your Fringe Editor’s impressions are these: James Beard has a lot more command, and is certainly much more of a politician than Moore is, and is an interesting orator by local standards. He’s no dummy, and at times his performance at the meeting bordered on mesmerizing. But, he is far from knowledgeable enough about land use, the relationship between the Board of Supervisors and the state, the nature of the national and global economy or the cost-benefit calculations of governance to be on the Board of Supervisors. He needs to learn those things, but not at tax payer expense.
Moore is much better informed, but is not skilled at communicating like Beard is, and gives the impression he’d be a lackluster supervisor. Sometimes knowing too much can demoralize a person; Beard doesn’t know enough while Moore gives the impression he knows too much, meaning he would be a capable supervisor, but perhaps not a great one.
At this moment, the Prospect Prognosticator puts Beard ahead in the polls, but this could easily change. There are only so many people with land but no water rights who hope to see Loyalton swell with wealthy outsiders. Maybe the majority of voters in Loyalton would be happy with a supervisor who was competent if not flamboyant. From this perspective, Moore has an uphill battle against the desperation and frustration of people who are watching the economy drain their efforts, often with the realization they are too old to get it back. Beard promises a swift return to prosperity; Moore just promises to make rational decisions.
Let’s see what happens on this race!
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.
Ecclesiastes 9:11 American King James Version