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What now?

A well-functioning board of supervisors can handle anything successfully



What most citizens expect and need from their local government is actual governance. Most of that occurs in public meetings, and much of it can be unglamorous and even uninteresting. But it’s how you get the people’s business done. It’s how you resolve problems, prepare for challenges, and shape policies and programs and the metrics by which they can be evaluated. It’s how you decide to budget and how you plan for the future. Governance tests the messy stuff within the talking points, working in the construction zone behind the razor fences of political rhetoric.

The recent selection of the chair and vice chair of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, essentially symbolic positions of power, was taken hostage by those primal political urges candidates and their supporters often have. It was unfortunate, ugly, and divisive. It was intensely personal for all of the supervisors and staff—and those hard feelings betray our true purpose—we are here to govern.

It is always difficult to transition from political campaigns to local governance, to the processes of legislative and quasi-judicial decision-making, and some never make it. To do so, and to do so effectively, requires that you put the interests of the whole community ahead of those of any particular special interest or even ahead of the largest and loudest bloc of your own supporters. It’s not easy, because tough decisions disappoint people. And compromise is too often seen by too many as capitulation, despite the fact that compromise is how we got here in the first place, how our nation developed and adopted our foundational principles of government.

It was hard for me in my first term in office, too, and I know all too well the expectations of one’s closest friends and supporters have after a hard-fought campaign. The campaign’s optimism and hope are often dashed by the intense gravity of making sound decisions to address the burden of governance 
once in office.

Governing, it’s been said, is not a hero’s profession. Frequently it’s necessary to take the sacred cows and make bouillon cubes from them. It can be slow and a little sloppy at times. And though expediency feels good, it usually causes more complicated problems for the future. So one has to put in the time and hard work to manage large loads of information in order to make fully informed judgments. That’s what our constituents elect us to do.

So what’s going to happen now that our board is currently so politically polarized and personally divided? Most people I speak with are much more concerned about our ever-dwindling water supply. It’s not only the people whose wells have dried up; it’s everyone, rural and urban, and it is the single most important issue pressing our state, our county, our economy, and, frankly, our way of life. Right now, it is essential to ensure that we confront this issue head-on, learning from past mistakes and delays.

If we don’t solve this at the countywide level now, we will cede local control to the state—which we cannot tolerate. If the board fails in this, we will have failed the public. We simply cannot offer our residents slogans in lieu of solutions.

Then there are the projects headed our way. Many of them are complex and have already created anxiety and dissension in communities. A well-functioning board, one that values collegiality and compromise, one that strives to see the big picture and always considers the future, can handle anything successfully. I know that for a fact.

My first year on the board was a year with a $30 million budget deficit and a community in which everyone knew people who were losing jobs, homes, and savings. There were many tough decisions to make, and the board stayed focused and driven, never deviating into trivial matters or ideological detours. Over the course of seven years, we put our public finances in the best order, trimmed costs, reformed pension and pay, launched economic development initiatives that kindled a new region-wide concentration on job creation and company retention, conserved tens of thousands of acres of land, approved two large-scale solar plants, built new libraries and parks, and continued to provide our public safety agencies with the resources they need.

And here we are, with an equally difficult set of challenges always before us, ranging from water to the ongoing shortage of housing for middle-class families and its necessary infrastructure, to also doing much better in addressing the related social predicaments of untreated mental illness, addiction, and homelessness.

For me, no matter how the board ultimately gels, I know that the people I work for expect a continuation of good government and strong leadership. Can I do it even in an atmosphere of hostility and conflict? I think I can, yes, but I would certainly prefer to do it in a spirit of serious and well-intentioned debate. That’s what the public—comprised of all our constituents—deserves


Adam Hill represents the 
3rd District on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. 
Send comments to the executive editor 
at [email protected].

-- Adam Hill - San Luis Obispo County supervisor, San Luis Obispo

-- Adam Hill - San Luis Obispo County supervisor, San Luis Obispo

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