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Dist. 2 hopefuls face voters at public forum

April 20, 2012

Forum host Alexander “Skandar” Reid (far right) introduces the three candidates running for District 2 of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors. The candidates, Jeff Griffiths, Russ Aldridge and Susan Cash (l-r) answered three questions in front of an audience of about 80 last Monday. Photo by Mike Gervais

Candidates for the second supervisorial district of Inyo County gathered Monday evening to share their views on the local economy and their goals for office should they be elected in June.
The candidate’s forum, organized, hosted and moderated by Skandar Reid of inyoface.org, drew approximately 80 residents who were interested in seeing how each of the three candidates would handle the three questions posed to them.
The candidates include incumbent Susan Cash, and challengers Russ Aldridge and Jeff Griffiths.
Reid crafted two questions for the candidates and the third was submitted by an audience member.
The first question, “What involvement are you presently in the community with local groups, events and special interest groups that enhance the economic vitality of Bishop and Inyo County?” was fielded by Cash, then Griffiths, then Aldridge.
“I volunteer at established events such as Mule Days and CHSRA,” Cash said, “anywhere from security to parking to selling tickets, whatever they need me to do, I’ve done it all.”
Cash also said she “spearheaded” an effort to have the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power release non-watershed properties it owns back into private ownership to allow “business owners to own their own property, make capitol improvements and enhance their businesses, as well as improve the aesthetics of the area.”
She also said she has worked with the Advocates for Access to Public Lands on the Adventure Trails system, and was heavily involved in the Digital 395 broadband project.
“Looking towards the future I worked on and supported securing an easement rather than a lease for the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport,” Cash said. “Now that the county is no longer in a cycle of not having a long enough lease for FAA funds, we can start making much needed improvements at the airport.”
Griffiths, a current member of the Bishop City Council, said the economic health of Inyo County is paramount to the health of the community and government.
“The health of our economy directly leads to how the county government can provide services,” he said, adding that he is a member of the Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.
“One of the things we have accomplished with the city is the Retail Gap Analysis, which allows local retailers to look at ways of improving their business and providing services and products for the community that aren’t currently being offered.” Griffiths said.
Griffiths also said he has been very active with the group Bringing Business to Bishop, which is attempting to attract businesses to fill vacant shops along Main Street in Bishop.
He too, said he has worked on the ground with the Digital 395 project, the Eastern Sierra Foundation and the local Rotary Club.
Aldridge said he is affiliated with two associations, the Owens Valley Church of Christ, where he serves as a part-time minister and treasurer, and the Owens Valley Contractors and Vendors Association.
The church “may be economic vitality, but more importantly, it is spiritual vitality,” Aldridge said. “That’s what we need first.”
On the OVCVA, Aldridge serves as vice president. He said that organization has worked to achieve a local preference for city and county project bids.
“This gives us, the local businesses here, a little bit better chance of winning government contracts, against corporate America winning,” he said, pointing out that it is a “proven fact” that money spent within the community turns over several times before leaving the county.
The second question, “What can Inyo County do to encourage and promote greater public participation in county government?” was fielded first by Griffiths, then Aldridge and finally Cash.
“Public participation is essential to local government,” Griffiths said, pointing out that, during his time on the Bishop City Council, the city has began offering its agenda packets online, allowing anyone with an interest in local government to see what the council will be discussing at its next meeting.
The City Council also recently hosted a meeting at Bishop High School, and has invited students to attend at least three City Council meetings and write about the experience in order to earn scholarship money.
“We make our meetings very open and we have a friendly tone, and outright ask on each agenda item whether people have any comments they want to make,” Griffiths said.
At the county level, Griffiths suggested having regular meetings in the Bishop area, in addition to in Independence, to allow residents there to attend.
Aldridge said he believes people would get more involved in county government if county government was more transparent.
If elected, “I will make it a point to have town hall meetings to ensure people are informed.”
He also said he would make himself available to answer any questions from the public to resolve any issues they have with he county.
“When I chose to run for this office, it wasn’t for the recognition or the money, because I believe God sees my good deeds, and I have a well-grounded business in this community. I hope the people in this community see some of the things that are wrong and want to make changes just as I do,” Aldridge said.
Cash said that encouraging public participation in such a large county is a “daunting task,” because, “unlike a two-square-mile city, Inyo County is 10,000 square miles of very diverse people and communities.”
She said the Board of Supervisors has made information available to the public through the general media channels, and recently began publishing its weekly agendas online to make them available to everyone.
She said the board televises its whole meeting, whereas the City Council holds un-televised study sessions before each of its meeting.
“As an individual supervisor, I am always available to my constituents for a phone call or an e-mail or a meeting,” Cash said. “This board attempts to be as responsive to the public as possible.”
She said the board attempts to hold meetings in different communities throughout the county, but, due to administrative costs, that is sometimes a difficult undertaking.
The third question, “What specific proposals do you have for economic stability for the whole county, both for the retail and development for the private section can actually be accomplished in a term for four years?” was fielded first by Aldridge, then Cash and finally Griffiths.
Aldridge said the county needs to find a way to stabilize itself, as state and federal money is not always dependable.
“I would like to see the county get involved in more projects that will benefit them financially,” he said.
Aldridge suggested that the county utilize the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport, possibly constructing warehouses that could bring more jobs to the county, and provide more services.
He also suggested making the Old Spanish Trail Highway, which runs next to a proposed solar power production facility, a toll road that would charge vehicles over a certain weight to off-set some costs the county expects to incur as the developer begins construction on the solar project.
Cash said Inyo County is one of the most financially sound local governments in the state.
“We are number two out of 58 counties in net asset value,” Cash said. “That means that each one of you own more of an interest in your county government than 56 other counties.”
Cash recognized that state and federal money is not always guaranteed, but pointed out that many state and federal funds are mandated for local services.
“We are very stable, we are debt free, we balance our budget every year, and every year I’ve been on the Board of Supervisors, we’ve added to reserves,” she said.
Griffiths said the specific projects that can be accomplished in a four-year term include ensuring government allows local businesses to conduct business as smoothly as possible.
“As far as tourism goes, and encouraging tourism, we need to think regionally,” Griffiths said. “There’s been some good steps towards cooperation between the different chambers of commerce” and the county can “accelerate” those relationships.
Griffiths also said natural resource development and light industry may be avenues the county can explore to boost the local economy.
Griffiths also said the county should continue its efforts to transfer as much public property into private ownership as possible to create more businesses locally.
Each candidate was given 2.5 minutes per question to provide a response. Those who have questions regarding a specific candidate’s position or answer to any of the questions at the forum are encouraged to contact that candidate to discuss their concerns.

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