NEVADA CITY, Calif. January 23, 2018 – Every once in a while some members of Nevada County’s Board of Supervisors fall prey to the “sitting on the dais” syndrome and forget they are not the only elected officials in the room.
Today, Chair Ed Scofield (elected with 4,959 votes in 2016,) Hank Weston (elected with 3,467 votes in 2014) and Dan Miller (elected in 2014 with 2,580 votes) declined a budget amendment request by Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters Greg Diaz (elected in 2014 with 20,635 votes.) California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (elected statewide with 1,217,371 votes and 4,463 in Nevada County), on a rare visit to Nevada County, barely got the courtesy of a thank you for his presentation and time spent sitting through a BOS’ power play.
Padilla gave a presentation on SB 450, the California Voters Choice Act (VCA). VCA permits counties to conduct elections in which every voter is mailed a ballot and vote centers and ballot drop-off locations are made available prior to and on Election Day. This model would replace operating polling places only on the day of the election and Vote By Mail (VBM) ballots that are only sent to voters where no polling place is available or upon request. The objective of the VCA? Increase voter participation.
At issue was a one-time budget amendment increase to expenses of $303,141 for FY 2017/18, including one-time costs of $164,142 and ongoing costs of $138,999 which will occur in FY 2017/18 and future years for the Elections Department. The budget increase stems from Nevada County’s participation in the Voters Choice Act. The $300,000 would be drawn from the county’s General Fund which had a balance of $26.7 million at the start of the fiscal year.
Chair Scofield declared himself “disturbed” by Greg Diaz not coming to the budget subcommittee last year and asking for the increase. He went on to chastise Diaz for not respecting the process saying “you need a 4/5th vote here and I don’t know that you’re gonna get it.” He suggested Diaz should have come to the BOS last year and even if he had asked for $500,000 “we would have considered it.” Diaz responded “That would have been irresponsible…” and was cut off by Scofield who retorted “You don’t think this is irresponsible – coming to us in January when the election is in June?”
After a 3-2 vote denying the request, Weston suggested Greg Diaz meet with the budget subcommittee “with all the figures.” As Diaz attempted to point out his office had, in fact, met with the county’s Chief Financial Officer, he was interrupted by Scofield with a curt “You have directions, Greg.”
What’s wrong with this picture?
Process is important in government, creating a framework for decision-making and policy. But, budget amendments are built into the county’s fiscal calendar and are a routine matter – generally.
The tone struck by the Chair of the Board during these two items appeared combative and contrary to the BOS’ own Order and Decorum. As Chair, Scofield had the option to delay this item during agenda review, a meeting held the week before each BOS meeting where the Chair approves items to be considered by the full board.
One of the Order and Decorum items reads: “No Surprises. Keep each other informed with each other or staff.” Why not afford Registrar of Voters Greg Diaz, also an elected official, the same courtesy?
Could it be that the current polarized national political climate is affecting local politics? Was this a calculated move by Republican BOS members to show contempt for the Clerk-Recorder and, by extension, for Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s attempts at increasing voter participation?
Technically, Diaz could simply move forward and claim the additional expense to be critical to preserving the integrity of the election process. However, what’s most likely to happen, is a meeting of the budget subcommittee where Chair Scofield and Vice Chair Richard Anderson will take a scalpel to the proposed increase and cut chunks out of the request. Then, it will come back to the BOS during their February 13th meeting for reconsideration.
Today, the conservative board majority flexed waning muscles, apparently pandering to a select portion of their constituency – namely representatives of the “State of Jefferson” movement, who were present in the audience. As a reminder, Nevada County “turned blue” in the 2016 General Election.
Maybe at tomorrow’s workshop Supervisors will remember the first expectation listed in their Order and Decorum – “Always focus on what’s best for the County, and represent the entire County as well as your individual District.”
Joining the pilot program for the VCA would give Nevada County an extra round of testing the waters of an all-mail-ballot election. Over two thirds of Nevada County voters are already voting by mail. Making participation in the voting process easier for registered voters should be a priority for all supervisors. After all, their seat is a non-partisan office.