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Following seven months of campaigning, a four-candidate Primary and a series of town hall forums, the top two contenders for the office of Fourth District Inyo County Supervisor are entering the home stretch of the 2012 election cycle.
In less than 30 days, voters from Wilkerson to Independence will be deciding whether incumbent Marty Fortney or challenger Mark Tillemans earns the District 4 seat at the dais come January.
Fortney, a resident of Aberdeen, and Tillemans, from Big Pine, earned slots on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot after defeating challengers and Independence residents Chris Dangwillow and Nina Weisman in the June Primary.
Whether it’s Fortney or Tillemans, the incoming District 4 supervisor will be responsible for representing a geographic area that includes the communities of Wilkerson, Keough’s, Big Pine, Aberdeen, Fort Independence and Independence.
The Inyo Register has once again asked the District 4 candidates a series of questions that will hopefully lead to clarification on certain issues and provide additional insight into their goals and motivations.
The candidates’ answers appear verbatim and in order chosen by drawing.
A Q&A specific to Bishop’s City Council race will appear in Saturday’s edition, wrapping up this three-part series.
1.) What will be (or are) the most difficult aspects of actually doing the job of County Supervisor?
Mark Tillemans: Meeting the needs of the community and public services within the budget allowances, and encouraging economic growth and stability. However, this will also allow for innovative solutions to unfold, such as community gardens, new business ventures, ride-sharing, sustainable living and volunteer mobilization.
An important aspect is developing relationships with all stakeholders in the county, including constituents, county agencies, BLM, Forest Service, LADWP and Tribes.
Gaining public confidence may be an initial challenge, but I’m confident that this can be overcome rather quickly, along with energizing and elevating the morale of County employees and residents alike.
Marty Fortney: I have been successfully performing the duties of 4th District Supervisor now for nearly four years. This has been trying at times in keeping up with the many meetings, however at the same time rewarding. The job is diverse and seldom dull. I look forward to continuing my work as the 4th District Supervisor and working to help the people who call Inyo County home as well as those who visit.
2.) What leadership role(s) have you played locally with community and/or volunteer organizations, for how long, and why were they important to you?
Tillemans: Served as the executive director for the Big Pine Chamber of Commerce. In this role, I gained insight about local business needs, such as supporting a regionalized marketing approach.
Serving as the director of an Education Center for three years, provided me with priceless experience and knowledge about private and public educational systems, and further solidified my belief in the importance of entrepreneurial opportunities, economic development and sustainability projects for the Owens Valley.
Coaching T-ball, soccer and football both on and off the field over the past seven years (collectively), has afforded me an opportunity to engage with local families, and to share in the common values of home-town, family-centered recreational activities. Coaching is sincere passion; I’m looking forward to many years of community service.
Fortney: I have coached both Little League softball, as well as the Big Pine High School Softball team. I served six years on the Inyo-Mono Fish and Game Advisory Commission, twice as chairman. I am currently serving as a fire captain with the Big Pine Volunteer Fire Department. I was also elected as the first president of the Friends of the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery, where I served in that position until I was elected to my current position on the Board of Supervisors. I have been involved in several conservation organizations within the Eastern Sierra region.
3.) What accomplishments can you point to as a result of your participation in the community and/or volunteer organization(s)?
Tillemans: As general manager of the Development Corporation, I’ve been successful in creating new jobs, and leading business ventures, such as The Wellness Center, providing health and wellness for the entire community.
As director of the Indian Education Center, I increased funding sources to provide for additional long-term jobs within the center, and in-class tutors, benefiting all BPUSD students.
My accomplishments thus far are a combination of experience in strategic planning, agency partnerships and collaborations, and leveraging new resources with existing resources, and, a willingness to go beyond old beliefs and limitations, keeping the future in mind at every turn.
Fortney: I have worked with a number of the youth by coaching them and teaching them not only to play softball but to work as a team. I have also helped to teach these kids to work together and to enjoy the game. As my position as training officer for the Big Pine Fire Department as well as being a captain, I work with folks to help them to learn to safely work fires. One of my favorite programs that the Big Pine Fire Department has is our Cadet Program. I have made presentations to the High School and Middle School to encourage the youth to become involved in the Fire Department. Working with these young people is rewarding as they are eager and open to learn.
At the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery I helped to keep the facility open and operating for many years beyond when DFG originally wished to close it. Unfortunately, Mother Nature helped DFG to leave. This iconic facility is well worth all of the effort to continue working to keep it going. I worked to help clean it up after the flood and have continued my involvement as much as possible. I have also worked on Engine 18 in the restoration project.
4.) The current Board of Supervisors has been accused of having “Stockholm Syndrome” when it comes to dealing with LADWP, in that the board acquiesces to the City of L.A. on matters where it should stand its ground. Is this a fair assessment; why?
Tillemans: The time is now, to strategically move forward. We must stand our ground and be firm, but it must be conducted in a positive way. It’s imperative to work effectively with LADWP, as well as land management agencies, and county agencies, with consistency and integrity. Finding common ground with local stakeholders on land and water issues promotes a unified message, and provides a stronger force. The time is now to move beyond the hindrances of the past, and look to the future for resolution, and resolve.
Fortney: Many times the board may seem as though it is not doing anything about DWP, however it is not so. The way the Long-Term Water Agreement and the Green Book were created it makes it difficult to work out solutions. This process is time-consuming and slow. When each side has one vote out of two votes it takes time to resolve disputes. This process could stand to be re-worked, however both sides have to agree to make this work and agreement is not always forthcoming. As a member of the Board of Supervisors, I have been outspoken and always diligent on issues concerning water and our communities.
5.) How would you approach dealings with DWP in situations where it was apparent the interests of Inyo County – whether its economic well-being or the health of its physical environment – were at risk?
Tillemans: My commitment is to take a proactive approach, protecting our communities, by utilizing all resources available to do so. First, keeping informed on the issues affecting our community; secondly, seeking viable and cooperative solutions; and lastly, determining if a more aggressive approach is necessary.
The time is now, to establish formidable, positive working relationships with new leadership in the Board of Supervisor seats, and a new aqueduct manager. Public relations and relationship-building efforts with the mayor of L.A. and its commissioners, will greatly benefit Inyo County as well.
Fortney: I have been involved in working with DWP to develop the Fire Safe Councils for the communities of Big Pine and Independence. I have been involved in working to bring not only DWP staff but CalFire staff on board with this for over a year prior to organizing the first meetings with the Fire Safe Councils. Thanks to the involvement of the Big Pine community members in the FSC, the DWP and CalFire have been working to clear some trouble areas around the community. I do not take credit for this as it was directly impacted by the continued overwhelming support of the community members. I thank DWP for their efforts and support. I am always willing to work with the staff at DWP to work out solutions rather than to fight.
Many of you may remember the Klondike Lake issue rearing its ugly head a few years ago. This lake was not in the Fourth District however I felt it necessary to take a role in addressing the closure to try and work out a solution. The end result may not be a great solution, however there is access to the lake and folks may enjoy it. I do believe that the Board of Supervisors needs to be ever diligent in working with DWP when it comes to Environmental Management projects as they usually create impacts to the environment greater than the original project itself.
6.) There seems to be a less-than-welcoming or sometimes even hostile atmosphere in the Board of Supervisors Room when department heads, representatives from public agencies or even members of the public approach the podium to make comments or answer questions. What can be done to remedy this – the reality or public perception?
Tillemans: District Supervisors need to know the issues through research, inquiry, preparation and genuine concern. Nothing creates a more hostile crowd than inadequate accommodations, so improving the environment of the meeting space is necessary. We should reassure constituents at the beginning of the meeting about our willingness to listen, and thank them in advance for their participation. Inclusion and respect for all is important to me, and my coaching and management experience is an asset to foster relationships, identify uneasy situations and work toward a positive outcome.
Transparency through an updated website and quarterly newsletter is also important.
Fortney: I have witnessed this myself in the past, and yes sometimes there is some tension within the board room. I do not feel there are ever personal attacks made as the subject is usually the driving factor. No one is immune to passion and many times everyone will allow themselves whether intentional or not to act out on their emotions. I was on the receiving end of this treatment prior to being elected and I do my best to control myself during these heated discussions.
7.) If a department head also happens to be an elected official, and the public has expressed a general lack of confidence in this official, is there anything you can or should do as a County Supervisor to help reinstate the public’s trust?
Tillemans: It’s vital to support our staff, as cooperation and teamwork can instill public confidence. Sharing information is very important, as transparency builds trust. These dual positions are very difficult to manage, and more freedom of information and open dialogue will always help. There may be a small portion of the population upset by someone; however if this turns into a majority and it’s an elected official, then the people will be able to voice their opinion through a vote. If public trust is detrimental to county operations, the issues should be given serious time and consideration.
Fortney: There are several department heads within the county who are elected officials. The board has limited oversight of these officials. The Board of Supervisors does have the final say in the budgets for these departments, however it is not advisable to impact these departments’ budgets because we or the public may not like the official. We do make sure the department is able to operate as best it can; however it is up to the voters to hold the elected official responsible for their actions.
8.) For years, the county has been able to maintain balanced budgets by reducing expenses while also maintaining vital services. However, does the county invest enough in known revenue-generators, such as the Film Commission or Chambers of Commerces’ presence at tourist-rich trade shows?
Tillemans: Increased investment in known revenue-generators is a good idea, as well as feasibility studies in potential projects. I’m very supportive of investing in ideas that have a proven track record of success, and increasing the investment when necessary is something I will support.
We must look at community-wide opportunities, and not get stuck in the mindset of taking funds away from existing projects to fund new opportunities.
There is great potential in grant writing, and is a viable avenue we must pursue.
Fortney: The County of Inyo has always adopted a balanced budget that is honest. State law requires the county to provide a balanced budget however if we were to follow the example of our State we would never have a meaningful or workable balanced budget. Since I have been on the board I have been proud to be a part of this process. I know how difficult it is for many of our departments to keep their budgets down and I applaud them for their efforts. Our county is fortunate to have such a talented workforce who are dedicated to ensuring your tax dollars are not wasted. We have been able to continue providing grant money to the chambers by way of competitive process to specific projects. This creates a bit more oversight in how tax dollars are used.
We also maintain the Film Commissioner position and there is a need to continue this. The Film Commissioner is supposed to be working on developing a “film permit” process which should help fund this position. I do feel strongly that the use of tax dollars in Inyo County is no laughing matter and I would rather see our senior program continue and our roads and facilities maintained at a higher level. I will continue to work to ensure our budget provides for these services if I am re-elected.
9.) What is a realistic role for the County of Inyo in a “coordination” process with the U.S. Forest Service and other federal land managers?
Tillemans: Too often, the federal government and federal land management agencies make determination as to what’s best for a region without consulting the community itself at the earliest stages of consultation. We are more than just interested parties, we are the stakeholders. The county should have a strong voice when decisions are being considered by USFS, BLM and NPS. A lot can be gained by working with our federal partners, and establishing a process for coordinating and providing comments with county and public input is imperative. The county should help guide management decisions on surrounding federal land.
Fortney: As one member of the Board of Supervisors, I have personally been involved in discussions with the Forest Service to encourage these folks to have meaningful, consistent dialog.
Coordination, or however they wish to define it, is a way to ensure communication is conducted. In a county such as Inyo that has such a large area of federally managed lands, we are impacted by the actions our Federal agencies do. If our board is not able to have input into this process we wind up with less and less access resulting in you, the taxpayers, unhappy and angry. I see the need to have a higher level of communication with the USFS and will continue to work toward this goal.
The BLM and Park Service currently work well with the county board and staff during all projects and we are many times able to work out solutions to our differences – well, most of the time. I am confident the USFS and the Board of Supervisors will be able to agree to communicate openly, meaningfully and consistently in the near future.
10.) Board members also serve on various committees and commissions, such as the California State Association of Counties, Regional Council of Rural Counties and Eastern Sierra Council of Governments. What are some committees on which you’d be interested in serving?
Tillemans: With my experience and interest, I would best serve our community by participating in committees that empower and educate youth, and engage them in being future leaders of Inyo County. I am also very interested in developing a committee that addresses the needs of the elderly and encourages youth and elders to work together more often.
The existing committees I’m most interesting in are: Children and Families First Commission, Juvenile Justice Coordinating Team, Child Support Services Oversight Committee, Inyo Mono Area Agency on Aging. I intend on jumping in to commissions and committees whenever I am needed.
Fortney: I serve as an alternate on both the California State Association of Counties and the Regional Council of Rural Counties. Both of the committees currently have long-term members and I am willing to work with either of these committees. The RCRC is closer to what our county needs as they do a great job lobbying on behalf of rural counties. I also serve on a number of other local committees such as the Local Transportation Commission.
All of these committees are important to Inyo County and worthy of my attention. I have a good record of attending on a regular basis and if I am not able to attend I check with the other members prior to the meetings to see if there is anything I can do to help with input to the meeting and I follow up after the meeting to obtain the results and actions of the meeting. This way I am informed and am able to continue to be engaged in issues which are either ongoing or will be coming up in the future. I will continue to perform at this level if re-elected.