In January, the residents of Inyo County’s largest supervisorial district will have new elected representation.
Whether the incoming District 5 Inyo County Supervisor is Jim Gentry or Matt Kingsley will be determined by South County voters in less than a month.
Both challengers – Lone Pine residents and past or current members of other boards and committees in the community – earned an appearance on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot after unseating incumbent Supervisor Richard Cervantes in the June Primary.
Cervantes will serve out his current term before handing over his seat on the Board of Supervisors in January to the victor of November’s election.
The incoming Fifth District Supervisor will be responsible for representing a sweeping geographic area from Lone Pine south to the Kern County border and east to the Nevada state line – containing the specific communities of Olancha, Cartago, Keeler, Darwin, Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek, Shoshone, Tecopa and Charleston View.
In the interest of helping voters prepare for the upcoming Nov. 6 General Election, The Inyo Register has once again asked the 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.
Q&As specific to the District 4 Supervisor and City Council races will follow in subsequent issues.
1.) What will be (or are) the most difficult aspects of actually doing the job of County Supervisor?
Matt Kingsley: Simply put, the 5th District Supervisor must effectively communicate with federal, state and local government representatives, special interest groups, business owners, and constituents in the many small communities spread over 10 million acres. The many complex issues range from dust mitigation and water export issues to renewable energy development and the social and economic sustainability of the small communities that make up the 5th District. Good intentions without the ability to communicate them will not be effective. I believe my communication skill set, experience and knowledge base will enable me to overcome these difficult challenges.
Jim Gentry: I have stated from the beginning of this campaign, the state and federal government are going to try and balance their budget woes on the backs of the county and unsuspecting taxpayers. These things have already started with AB 109 overcrowding of our county jails and the CalFire prevention fee (the name itself tells you they’re not going to put out the fire at your house) and it will get worse for the above reasons. I believe for all five supervisors in the county the most important issue is for all the citizens to receive equal amount of county services due them. The best way to do this is to maintain a healthy budget and work with the other supervisors to keep their eye on the same goal for all citizens of Inyo County.
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?
MK: Community service has given me friendships and a sense of place in Inyo County, while enabling me to help my fellow residents and neighbors. I have been a member of the Lone Pine Lions Club for over 10 years and served two terms as president. The honor of providing leadership to friends and colleagues is satisfying because members are participating because they want to and not because they must.
Four years on the Lone Pine School Board and two years as its president, have given me the opportunity to learn the importance of working closely with and communicating effectively with other elected officials to resolve issues, address challenges and set goals. As chairman of the Lone Pine Fire Safe Council for four years, I helped the community meet the challenge of working successfully with federal, state and local governments to implement large scale, grant-funded hazardous fuels reduction projects for the community.
JG: The most important leadership roles I’ve played in my life should and will not be discussed here. I believe the leadership role the question is asking for are shared leadership, because no one could have done these things on their own. My wife Jacki and I were pioneers on the first all-volunteer ambulance service that covered all of southern Inyo County.
I spent 18 years on the most successful school board in Lone Pine ever. During that time I was elected to serve on the California school board delegate assembly, representing Inyo and Mono school districts where we challenged school issues at the state level.
I served as a fire commissioner. These organizations and other life experiences are very important to me, for a multitude of reasons one of the more important is that we all have a different way of looking at a problem and a solution to them and sometimes the one we are most fond of may not be the best one.
The county stopped subsidizing tri-county ambulance service and Lone Pine fire department was not going to take over the ambulance at that time. If all of us did not start the all volunteer ambulance service there would not have been one in all the southern end of the county and I know we helped saved lives.
3.) What accomplishments can you point to as a result of your participation in the community and/or volunteer organization(s)?
MK: As school Board President I worked to make our board meetings less about Robert’s Rules of Order and more about having conversations with interested parties. This approach is not always comfortable when unhappy parties address our board, but elected officials must hear how their decisions impact others. I have been told that I have been successful in making the meetings more open and comfortable for discussion. Leading as well as participating in Lions Club projects and fundraisers has a dual set of benefits. The first is the beneficiary, be it a scholarship for a student or a handicapped access ramp for a local resident with mobility issues. The second is the sense of pride and community club members feel for helping others.
JG: When I was first elected to the Lone Pine Unified School District Board they had been forced to lay off staff, the infrastructure was in very sad shape. We hired a great administrator and started turning things around. Schools are basically financed two ways …
One: is if the property tax in the district does not pay enough to operate the school the way the state thinks it should then those taxes are put in a big pot with other tax moneys and then divided by average daily attendance A.D.A. (this is called revenue limited district).
Two: If the tax in a district is more than enough to operate the school, we get to keep it and the state gives us basic aid to run some of their mandatory programs (called basic aid district).
When I was the president of the board we were given the chance to think outside the box and try and become a basic aid district. We only had a year to do it. We all worked very hard sometimes staying up all night and calling in a lot of political favors but we got it done 24 hours before the end of the deadline. We were able to renew all the facilities, add a new library at the elementary school and a learning center at the high school. We also brought our staffing back up to where it should have been.
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?
MK: It is essential that the board recognize their responsibility in protecting the interests of the Owens Valley. Stockholm Syndrome is described as irrational thinking from victims who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. I do not believe the Board of Supervisors is there yet. The LADWP has contributed in some positive ways to our small communities and has permitted most of their lands to be open and accessible. But the City of L.A.’s clear objective of extracting as much water as possible from our valley has a negative effect on our landscape. Knowledgeable and engaged representatives must recognize when litigation will be successful and be prepared to stand their ground on unresolved issues.
JG: Stockholm syndrome: a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feeling towards their captors sometimes to the point of defending them.
I’m sorry; I do not have the training or the expertise of a psychologist to answer this question.
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?
MK: The complex relationship between Inyo County and LADWP is a challenge that must be addressed through clear and frank communication between the parties. LADWP clearly has the upper hand in terms of funding and legal assistance. But Inyo County has the help and backing of its citizens and many local groups and organizations. As the 5th District representative, I would utilize local groups and experts (ranchers, business leaders, environmental groups, etc.) to provide ideas and data to negotiate forward thinking resolutions to situations as described. Where a negotiated solution cannot be reached I will fight for the best interest of the 5th District and Inyo County in whatever way is available.
JG: This question is open-ended, so let me try to respond to a few scenarios.
If this is a legal matter, handle it that way. I was talking with someone on the steps of the courthouse. They said the county or Board of Supervisors would not fight DWP because of the cost. That is always a consideration, cost versus gain. In the question I believe the gain is the winner.
If the issue is political then we handle it politically. The L.A. City Council does not like their names associated with anything bad and the press is always willing to take them on. If the issue is negotiable, then negotiate, give and take making sure you take as much as you give or more.
Every issue has its own merit and I hope I will always have the good judgment to take on the ones we can make a difference with.
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?
MK: The board is only as good as the information and ideas it can solicit from a committed staff and engaged public. As I have attended board meetings this summer, I have observed the Board of Supervisors in action. Clearly individual supervisors have differing approaches, and clearly, some seem less approachable than others. As school board president I have worked to ensure that our board meetings present an open and friendly atmosphere with less emphasis on procedure and more on gaining information and allowing affected parties to be heard. That is not always comfortable but as board members we must hear what is working as well as what is not. By electing representatives with the experience and confidence to address even controversial issues in a transparent and non-judgmental approach, the public and staff will feel less intimidated about sharing their expertise and experience.
JG: I for one have not felt a hostile atmosphere. I have seen questioning and banter back and forth between supervisors, but I’m sure that is why they are there.
I know we can all feel intimidation when we are in front of a group asking questions. When I sat on the school board there were times I felt hostility from those getting up to talk to the board and they were only trying to get their point across.
Having said all that, the Board of Supervisors meeting is the place for the public and staff to sunshine or air out their feelings about county government and I feel it should be a place you feel comfortable doing that, and if there is anything I can do to make that happen, I will be more than happy to do it.
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?
MK: If the issue is a lack of clear communication in relaying information to the public, then it may be appropriate for a supervisor to engage. If the lack of confidence is well founded, then it would be wrong to engage in trying to repair the official’s reputation and would also be inappropriate to engage in further damaging the official’s reputation. In the board’s role of oversight of all county functions, board members must insure that poor decisions that might damage county interests would be prevented.
JG: NO! If the public truly has lost confidence in him/her, they have the options to not re-elect or recall or in some cases the attorney general can act, but not the Board of Supervisors.
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?
MK: Tourism is critical to the local economy. Additional support for the tourist/recreational/film industries must be a well thought out expenditure to ensure it truly will increase visitor stays. My experience has been that there are local leaders in our communities with great ideas. We can support them by targeting a portion of Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) towards their efforts. Representatives on the Board of Supervisors need to be the link between these local leaders and the county government to help them succeed.
JG: As for Film Commissions, Chamber of Commerce, tourism – whatever the County has invested in them they have gained many times over in tax revenues. I believe we should continue that investment and also help them through the unnecessary regulations and bureaucratic messes that have been put in front of them.
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?
MK: The federal and state land managers are nothing to be scared of, nor are they something to belittle. They answer to a different set of priorities than does the county. Open and regular communication between the board and leaders of federal agencies should be the norm. Egos must be “checked at the door” in the interest of public service and leaders must recognize that the missions of the county and federal or state agencies may not be in alignment. Engaged and approachable leaders can protect the interest of their respective agencies and constituents more effectively if they are able to communicate often, openly and frankly without fear of attack or reprisal. Again, approachable, transparent, and knowledgeable leadership is the key to successful interagency relationships.
JG: I don’t know if there is a realistic role of coordination that the county can do. The feds feel they own the land and we will use it by their rule.
I do feel that by them (feds and state) creating an attractive nuisance, they should be required to pay into part of the expenses the County has incurred because of that, such as security/ sheriff, health and human services/ hospitals, to compensate for tax-exempt lands.
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?
MK: As a new member of the Board of Supervisors, I believe it will be important to serve on local committees, commissions and boards to have the opportunity to become more effective on local issues. Some of the assignments I could effectively fill immediately include: Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District Board; Owens Lake Planning Committee; Emergency Medical Care Committee; Southern Inyo Aviation Advisory Committee; Local Transportation Commission; Agriculture Resources Advisory Board; Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center. I will enthusiastically accept other assignments as part of my job representing the 5th District and Inyo County.
JG: I am retiring, I will be happy to serve on any or all.