WHAT’S WRONG With the Sierra County Board of Supervisors?
They just can’t seem to make real news.
The other day after a SC Board of Supervisor’s meeting, a gravely disappointed Don Russell, editor of the Mountain Messenger News, remarked, "This board gets along so well that even when they disagree they can’t argue. There’s just no news in this board."
We agree with Mr. Russell annually, and he sure hit the nail on the head this time. Even the time honored rivalry between the east and the west supervisors has broken down, probably because four of five supervisors have Loyalton in their district.
Either way, the sad result is that the Sierra County Board of Supervisors just can’t generate the kind of angst that makes good headlines.
For example, a couple of board meetings ago the supervisors reviewed a budget that was not only extraordinarily lean, it was riddled with doubt about what the state would do next. It isn’t that the board members didn’t understand the difficulty of the situation, after all, they’d asked intelligent questions of the auditor and county council, and they’d discussed the various hazards involved. Still, when the discussion was ended, Bill Nunes, Chair of the Board, said, "well, we’ll just have to do what we can do now and hope for the best" or something quite near that. If ever there was a moment for drama, for despair, for prophecies of want and ruin, for harbingers of the end of nanny government as we know it, this was the moment. What did the anxiously waiting press get from this moment? "…Hope for the best."
Whose fault is this rash of civility among the board members? Pat Whitley is known as a bulldog, hard headed and tenacious. She should be good for some obstructionism, some provincialism, some complete dragging-of-the-feetism. What do we get instead? A Pat Whitley who complains about the way things are, yes, but who still generally accepts the reality the board and the county lives under, and casts the hard vote, the vote she wishes she didn’t have to, but does. She isn’t the news generator she should be, not at all. Still, the problem isn’t her alone.
Peter Huebner is a deeply sincere supervisor, and dedicated Peter watchers can tell by the color of his head how upset he is over something. He becomes so frustrated sometimes he glows a brilliant red, like the hot bulb over a firehouse door. True, he did struggle with a heart attack one day, and for that the press is grateful, but a man who can generate that kind of infrared radiation should be expected to transfer some of those BTUs to a "heat of the moment" action; nothing serious, just a hurled laptop or shredded clothing. But, nothing.
Lee Adams. Yes, he’s as cool as a professional stud poker player. Sure, as an ex-cop he’s used to dealing with drunks and people off their psych-meds, so you’d expect him to be cool. But you’d also expect that once in a while Peter Huebner, for example, might show up with a shiner from when he "fell down the stairs" at the Loyalton Social Hall, courtesy of old "your shoelace is untied" Adams. He’s retired, but surely he still carries a boot gun; can’t we see it once in a while, just as a way of having him make his point on an issue? So we know he’s serious?
Bill Nunes. Chair. Even a novice legislator knows that the chairperson, through careful and professional use of the gavel, can confound agreement about the time, and permanently torsion colons and send shards of gritted tooth enamel flying like shrapnel from IEDs. Bill Nunes certainly has that kind of mastery of the gavel, but he refuses to use it. He keeps track of time, marks the board’s place on the agenda, calls for a motion when the discussion has run its course. All very civil, none of it news. Our advice to Bill: cut loose! Find your inner chairperson, the little tiny egomaniac in your head that wants to bang the gavel while someone is talking, who wants to tell the slack-jawed taxpayer-complainer "sitdown, you hadjer chance. So vote against me, if you can hold a thought until the next election." Let the force of the gavel travel up your arm and seize that tiny egomaniac in there. Is that asking too much?
But, even the chair is only responsible for so much tranquility. Many long-time board watchers (unofficially called "Supers Snoopers") blame Dave Goicoechea for the "aw shucks" attitude of the board, pointing out that the board used to know how to create tension, contention, madness; in short, news. Back in the old days, before Dave.
We tend to agree. It isn’t just that Goicoechea comes to meetings chewing a long hank of grass, smelling of night crawlers and brook trout, or that blue birds follow him to the meetings. It’s the folksy things he says, like "it’s better’n findin’ half a worm in your apple," or "it’s like my old three legged bull askin’ me to stand the cows by the milkin’ stool," or "if’n a woodchuck was a muskrat his teeth would be too big for his lips and he’d take on water and drown" and other imponderable utterances of a down home nature. We think Goicoechea is the problem here, and it isn’t just because we have trouble spelling his name. He refuses to get upset, or give over to anger, or quiver from fear; any of the things we professionals know as "news".
Until something happens to break this spirit of civility and cooperation, the press can’t be responsible. The woebegone Mr. Russell was right, there’s just no news in this board.
It’s the price you pay for not choosing your supervisors based on their prison records.