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SLO County clerk-recorder selection committee begins work

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San Luis Obispo County's clerk-recorder appointment process kicked off on Sept. 8 with a meeting of a special selection committeee, which, at the end of this month, will nominate up to seven candidates for the Board of Supervisors to consider.

"This is a politically fraught time. There are a lot of politics," Ken Hampian, a committee member and former SLO city manager, said in introductory comments. "We have the opportunity here ... to set all of that aside and focus entirely on the applications in front of us."

Aiming to fill a vacancy left by elected Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong, who resigned in July, the SLO County Board of Supervisors decided in August to open up the job to any registered voter in California who was interested in applying. Each supervisor then hand-picked a person to serve on their five-member selection committee.

In all, the county received 44 applications for the clerk-recorder job. Of those, only four have prior experience working in a county or city clerk's office, according to a New Times review of the applications.

The candidates with experience are Helen Nolan, the current acting SLO County clerk-recorder; Elaina Cano, election's division manager for Santa Barbara County (and a former assistant clerk-recorder in SLO County); Jeffrey Barry, the former chief deputy clerk-recorder for Yolo County; and Lena Legge, the former assistant city clerk for the city of Bakersfield.

On Sept. 8, the selection committee focused solely on the process ahead, and not the merits of the candidates. After they get a chance to review all of the candidates and their qualifications, the selection committee will meet again on Sept. 20 to nominate their top seven (or fewer) and discuss them. On Oct. 12, the Board of Supervisors will meet to interview those candidates and vote on an appointment.

In an introductory statement, Chief Administrative Officer Wade Horton said he wanted to see candidates rise to the top who have demonstrated clerk experience, personal integrity, and strong leadership skills.

"We're living through some very difficult times and a divided community," Horton said. "This isn't a time to learn on the job."

When asked by the committee what the SLO County clerk-recorder staff needs right now, Horton answered "proven leadership and subject matter expertise."

The selection committee is made up of Hampian; two former city clerks, Lee Price (SLO) and Marcia Torgerson (Atascadero); Vicki Janssen, legislative assistant to 1st District Supervisor John Peschong; and Charles Bell, an election law attorney who served as general counsel to the California Republican Party for more than 30 years.

In discussing what qualities she's looking for in a clerk-recorder, Price said demonstrated experience administering elections tops the list.

"The person that is going to hold this job needs to know all aspects of it," Price said. "I feel that whoever sits and takes this job needs to be somebody who can hit the ground running, who has direct experience in California election law. There's no time to train."

Other committee members agreed, with Torgerson adding that nonpartisanship and an ability to effectively communicate with the public are also critical.

"You need to have someone who knows the job, and can relay that confidently to the public," Torgerson said. "No one should know how you feel about politics."

Bell said that restoring trust in elections is a chief concern of his.

"I'm concerned about the integrity of the process, the division in the country and the county over these election matters," he said.

Whichever candidate is ultimately appointed will serve through the November 2022 election. The selection committee will next meet on Sept. 20 in the SLO County Government Center, and again on Sept. 21, if necessary, to finalize its recommendations to the board. Δ

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