If you want to see how to take a moderate kerfuffle and make it into an exponentially bigger throbbing headache for everyone involved, look no further than the SLO County Board of Supervisors' handling of former Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong's departure and the board's attempt to find a replacement.
The obvious choice was to appoint Deputy Clerk-Recorder Helen Nolan, who knows the department, has experience, and has already been named acting clerk-recorder. After all, there's an election in five short months that could determine who will win the next four-year clerk-recorder term, so why make things needlessly complicated? Appointing Nolan would be the least expensive, most prudent course of action. But this is SLO County, baby, where persnickety partisan politics and posturing are de rigueur.
The five-member Board of Supervisors decided to open the position up to every Tom, Dick, and Harriet interested in applying. There were literally only three requirements: Applicants must be 18 or older, have established SLO County residency by the time they're appointed, and be registered to vote at the time of the appointment. Election experience? Nah!
All told, 44 applicants applied for the position. No, pink-clad Los Angeles icon Angelyne wasn't one of them. She only wanted to be governor.
Anywho, the board then appointed a five-member committee to peruse through the 44 applications, whittle the list down to seven, and present it to the board. Each board member was allowed to select one committee member. Fair is fair!
For the record, conservative 1st District Supe John Peschong chose his own legislative aide, Vicki Janssen, because I guess he didn't want to think too hard about it and apparently doesn't have enough for her to do.
Liberal Bruce Gibson of the 2nd District picked former SLO City Clerk Lee Price. Moderate liberal Dawn Ortiz-Legg, 3rd District, chose former SLO City Manager Ken Hampian.
Conservative 4th District supe Lynn Compton tapped Chuck Bell—an attorney who along with attorney Stew Jenkins helped Compton sue Tommy Gong over signature irregularities on ballots cast during her 2018 re-election bid.
Conservative Debbie Arnold, 5th District, picked former Atascadero City Clerk Marcia Torgerson.
Sure, there's some potential partisanship in there, but so far, so good, right? All they had to do was come up with seven names. When the board convened on Oct. 5, the conservative board members expressed their dismay that the committee's list was only three names long. How. Dare. They. Defy. The. Board's. Directive!
Unfortunately for Arnold and Peschong, who both later voted to add four more names to the list, dammit, the committee took its job seriously enough to let quality, not arbitrary quantity, guide its selection. They picked the three candidates with actual election experience. Obviously Nolan was on the list, as was Jeffrey Barry, Yolo County's previous chief deputy clerk-recorder, and Elaina Cano, elections division manager for Santa Barbara County and previous assistant clerk-recorder in SLO County.
Now, you'd think that, as usual, Compton would join forces with her conservative compatriots to force the issue, but lo and behold, she voted with liberals Gibson and Ortiz-Legg to simply move on to the interview stage on Oct. 12. Weird, right?
Well, it was either weird or politically savvy AF!
A week prior, at the board's Sept. 28 meeting, perennial pot-stirrer Stew Jenkins, who apparently really wants the clerk-recorder's job, did a presentation for why he should be "the guy." He returned on Oct. 5 to reiterate why he should be on the list—although, he really showed everyone why he shouldn't be on the list. If Compton voted to add those four names (which included Jenkins), it would look like she was pushing for Jenkins, who—let's remember—helped her sue Gong.
What a dog and pony show! Gross.
First, Gong quits in part because of the Trumpites' accusations of fraud and a racist caller who asked Gong if he was a member of the Communist Chinese Party. Then, the Board of Supervisors took what should be a straightforward decision they could have made themselves and handed it off to a committee. Then, some supervisors didn't like what the committee they chose decided. Now, in an effort to not look like a partisan hack, Compton turned on her allies.
Pass the gravy, please. This is delicious!
Look, the clerk-recorder job, while complicated, used to be pretty straightforward: oversee legal documents such as marriage licenses and run county elections. It's an elected position, yes, but it's supposed to be nonpartisan. Both Gong's predecessor, Julie Rodewald (We miss you!), who held the position for 20 years, and Gong himself, were competent, fair, and admirable.
After Donald Trump's humiliating loss to President Joe Biden and his subsequent false claims of voter fraud, his local minions have attacked our clerk-recorder and called into question the validity of our elections. Why? Because, like Trump, they're losers and they don't like it.
What's really going to sting is after all the time and money wasted and political rancor, Nolan will likely be appointed, as she should have been. Dumb. Δ
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