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Questions for the District 2 candidates

May 10, 2012

In addition to providing previously published “candidate statements,” the 27 men and women whose names will be appearing on local ballots on June 5 were asked to let voters know where they stand on specific issues.
Specifically, The Inyo Register invited the candidates for Inyo County Supervisor Districts 2, 4 and 5, Board of Education Trustee Area 2, U.S. Congressional District 8 and State Assembly District 26 to respond to a set of questions dealing with matters on a countywide or state level and specific to the districts where they are running office.
The Register’s series of questions and responses continues today with the candidates for District 2 Supervisor: incumbent Susan Cash and challengers Russ Aldridge and Jeff Griffiths.
District 2 essentially covers the City of Bishop.
Each candidate was provided the same set of questions as his or her political challengers, and was asked to keep the responses as concise as possible.
Future issues will include the responses from the candidates for Board of Education Trustee Area 2, U.S. Congressional District 8 and State Assembly District 26.
As before, their responses are printed verbatim with the order chosen by drawing.

1.) Do you support entering long-term debt with taxpayer money to construct a new consolidated office space in Bishop? Explain.
Russ Aldridge:
My concerns to entering into a long term lease with the new building of County Offices is a bad idea. The County should make the necessary repairs to their existing buildings and try and bring them up to ADA standards. They need to renegotiate their current leases and have the building owners bring their buildings up to current standards. Going into a long-term lease could hurt the County financially.
Jeff Griffiths: Building a consolidated county building has the potential to save Inyo County millions of dollars in the long term, alleviate poor working conditions, and improve customer service. On the downside, it requires a significant upfront investment, reduces flexibility during uncertain economic times, and will leave 11 empty buildings in Bishop. Inyo County should explore all options in Bishop and include the public in a transparent process before committing to such an important project.
Susan Cash: I’m obligated to look for the best solution for the taxpayers with regards to cost efficiency. The county will always require office space in the Bishop area and we can rent it or own it. It makes sense to evaluate consolidating space for the public’s convenience, ADA compliance, staff safety and cost efficiency. It would be irresponsible of me to indicate support or opposition until that evaluation is complete.

2.) What are the greatest challenges facing your district and what are some possible solutions you’d like to have a hand in crafting?
Some of the greatest challenges that Bishop is currently facing now is seeing all the empty buildings within the town of Bishop. The County along with the City of Bishop needs to work together in trying to bring business back to this area. I believe offering more of a tax incentive to a future business could be a way to bring them to our area.
JG: The biggest issue affecting the families of Inyo County is how to diversify and expand the economy. Everything from the wellbeing of Inyo citizens to the funding of vital government services depends on a healthy economy. Next is building a county government that encourages public participation and efficiently uses taxpayer dollars to serve at-risk youth, seniors, and our whole community.
SC: The greatest challenge to any community these days is the economy. As a County Supervisor, I have encouraged programs that create jobs and promote clean industry, such as Digital 395, and programs that enhance tourism such as the Adventure Trails System. I also have pushed for conversion of LADWP business corridor properties to private ownership and will continue to do so.

3.) What are the biggest water-related issues facing the county right now? What do you feel has to be done to remedy problems? Would you have handled past decisions differently? If so, why?

RA: The water issues between Inyo County and Los Angeles Water and Power needs to be resolved. One way this could happen is to allow LADWP to take the same amount of water each year, no more, no less, that will allow our valley during the wet seasons to replenish our Aquifers.
JG: The two biggest water-related issues facing Inyo County are the over-pumping of ground water and the use of water to mitigate dust on the Owens dry lake. We must advocate for fair implementation of the Long Term Water Agreement that protects our valley. Collaborative planning on the dry lake could ensure dust control, conserve waterfowl habitat, and maintain water allotments to ranchers, fish hatcheries, and mitigation projects.
SC: The Blackrock 94 Parcel is on the front burner for the county right now. The County Water Department has produced a thorough report documenting the environmental degradation there due to DWP’s overpumping. The County is following the Long Term Water Agreement (LTWA) procedures to address the issue.
The LTWA doesn’t appear to give the protections that Inyo County had expected when it was signed decades ago. I would have pushed for more tangible measurements, but for now we have to work within the existing legal agreements.

4.) Does Inyo County rely too much, economically, on tourism? What other industries could you see being viable in Inyo County, and would you be interested in helping foster their development?
The County does rely on tourism it has been a part of this the Eastern Sierras for a long time. The business in Inyo County all effected one way or another by the people who come here to visit. The County however should broaden their horizon by trying to get other industry here to help stabilize our local economy.
JG: While tourism is an important segment of the economy in Inyo County, the jobs that support it tend to be low wage. It is important to broaden the economic base by developing industries like renewable energy, natural resources, and value-added agriculture. We must utilize the Digital 395 infrastructure to develop high tech jobs with wages that can support a family.
SC: I wouldn’t characterize it as “too much,” but diversification of the economic base is sensible. Inyo County has been focusing on bringing more renewable energy projects to the county as long as they are environmentally feasible and don’t harm the taxpayers, as well as promoting industries that could take advantage of the technology that will arrive with Digital 395. Other key and sometimes overlooked economic elements are our significant retirement community, large employers (DWP, SCE, CalTrans, NIH) and agricultural enterprises.

5.) Does a supervisor have an obligation to vote in a way that benefits his or her district, even if it’s bad for the county as a whole? Explain.
When Supervisors are voting on issues that concern the District they need to take to heart the best and right decision for all involved. These can be the hardest decisions to make. The right vote for what is best for all is the best vote.
JG: No. A decision that is bad for the county as a whole will not benefit anyone in the long run. We are too small of a county to look at issues from a district perspective. As a community, we must work towards county and region-wide collaboration to reduce duplication and waste. The best solutions are the ones where everyone benefits.
SC: My first obligation as a supervisor is to my district, understanding and then informing the residents on the possible ramifications and benefits of any issues county-wide. If a decision is “bad for the county as a whole”, there will also be ramifications to my district. We are a united county – many of us live in one district, work in another, and have family and friends in others.

6.) Is the county and the way it does business as transparent and “user-friendly” as it could be?
The County needs to conduct business in a more transparent way. I feel that if our citizens were better informed about the way the County conducted business there would be less problems. The citizens of this County deserve honesty and truth even during the hard times.
JG: Increasing transparency and encouraging public participation is important not only to build public trust, but also in developing better solutions to tough problems. Inyo County must go beyond what is legally necessary and involve the public, in open session, early and often in the decision making process. Through press releases and meetings in Bishop, the county can inform and include the public.
SC: In recent years, this Board has made it a priority to put more information online for public access and issue more press releases and public service announcements. We also make every effort to hold special meetings in communities on specific issues that affect them and hear issues at specific times when requested. Board agendas and complete backup are now available online. We will continue to improve and expand our outreach.

7.) Do you feel the Board of Supervisors has a role in helping to boost or maintain morale of the County of Inyo workforce?
The Supervisors have an important role to keep up the morale of the Counties work force. As Supervisors, when an employee does their job well, they should be praised in public. There will be times when an employee falls short of their duties, as Supervisors they need to encourage these employees and help them with the information they are given and taught. Supervisors need to work on keeping the work force strong.
JG: The Board of Supervisors not only has a role in maintaining employee moral, but it also needs to lead. In Bishop, we take a team approach, praise employees, and encourage innovation. Bishop has fewer employees now than in 1980, and we accomplish more with less. This is due to a motivated workforce. Treating employees with respect is the key.
SC: Absolutely. The Board of Supervisors has the responsibility of leadership in all aspects, including morale of employees. As a former front-line County employee and as the spouse of a 19-year front-line County employee, I know how imperative it is that the Board foster good relationships, recognize great customer service, and treat employees with respect and fairness. They are not just employees – they are friends, neighbors, constituents, and people committed to serving the public.

8.) Is there adequate communication and/or coordination between the County of Inyo and City of Bishop on matters affecting the greater Bishop area?
It is my understanding that the communication between the County and the City of Bishop is very poor. If elected I will do my best to bridge that gap to have better communication on mutual matters.
JG: No, there is room for improvement in communication and coordination between Bishop and Inyo County. The District 2 Supervisor is the key link. If elected, I will give regular updates to the Bishop City Council, and look for ways to collaborate on issues of mutual importance. We can reduce costs and improve services by partnering in areas like economic development, parks and recreation, and public safety.
SC: Yes. We work together in a variety of ways: The Local Transportation Commission, the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority, the City/County Liaison Committee, the Council of Governments, as well as other formal and informal channels. I made the commitment 8 years ago to regularly attend the City Council meetings and report those proceedings to the Board in an effort to see where we can coordinate and enhance services for our mutual constituency.

9.) Is there anything the county can do to help foster economic development in Bishop?
When it comes to economic development in Bishop, the County and the City of Bishop may need to work together to bring business or industry to the Bishop area. One thing to keep in mind the City of Bishop is not the only town in Inyo County. Our neighbors in the southern part of the County deserve the same attention.
JG: Definitely yes. I participated in the Eastern Sierra Economic Analysis, a community-based plan that offered action steps to develop our economy in the following areas: technology and broadband, renewable energy, high value tourism niches, and value-added agriculture. There are USDA rural development grants to fund these opportunities. In addition, developing the retail sector will help businesses and keep shoppers local.
SC: The County has little jurisdiction over what occurs within the city limits. However, the county is always looking for opportunities when it comes to economic projects that affect both the City and the County. I have worked with many city businesses on the Adventure Trails, and I have promoted the DWP downtown corridor land sales regardless of city/county jurisdictions. Healthy businesses are good for everyone, and competition between local jurisdictions serves no one.
10.) How important do you think the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport’s role is in potential economic development for Inyo County? Has adequate attention been given to the airport in this respect?
The Eastern Sierra Regional Airport will be the key to the economic recovery for Bishop. The County needs to take advantage of the Federal Grants that are available to help repair our runways. When our Airport meets FAA and Homeland Security requirements, we will then be able to utilize the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport to its fullest extent.
JG: The Eastern Sierra Regional Airport (ESRA) has great potential for economic development. The ESRA makes better sense for commercial air service than the Mammoth airport in terms of safety and reliability. At minimum, the ESRA should serve as a back-up airport during poor weather conditions in Mammoth. The Bishop airport would also be a great area for light industrial and warehouse development.
SC: First and foremost, the airport has to be safe for air ambulance, fire suppression, commerce, and transportation flights. We’ve recently entered into a permanent easement with DWP for aviation-purposes only, ending the cycle of DWP lease negotiations that have prevented us from obtaining grants for repairs. Next we can carefully examine new economic potential. It’s a slow process, but we’ve seen the results in Mammoth of not being methodical and careful.

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