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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 8th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 31

Former Arroyo Grande council member Caren Ray gets sworn in SLO County supervisor seat

BY JONO KINKADE


THE REPLACEMENT
Caren Ray thanked a crowded room of supporters for the standing room ovation after she was sworn in to her new seat as SLO County fourth district supervisor on Oct. 8.
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

After months of curiosity and speculation over a seat left vacant all summer long, San Luis Obispo County finally has a new fourth district supervisor.

Gov. Jerry Brown selected Caren Ray, who served on the Arroyo Grande City Council before her appointment, after a long, thorough process. Ray’s appointment was announced Oct. 3, and she was sworn in Oct. 8 in the very crowded board chambers. The seat was left vacant after Supervisor Paul Teixeira died from an unexpected heart attack in June. The vacancy left the supervisors with an occasional 2-2 split on key issues.

Ray opened her comments at the Oct. 8 Board of Supervisors meeting by honoring the memory of Teixeira, offering her regards to the family for its loss, and acknowledging her appointment as the resolution of “months of silence that left us in a frustrating political limbo.”

“I want to tip my hat to each and every person who applied to this position,” Ray said. “It takes guts and a true love for service to put your hat in this unforgiving ring.”

Prior to Teixeira, Katcho Achadjian occupied the seat before he was elected to serve in the state Assembly. The seat has been perceived as a swing vote, though votes often went toward a pro-development majority. Ray will likely be the deciding vote on difficult items, with the direction she’ll lean yet to be told.

Ray’s supporters have characterized her as an independently minded thinker who makes decisions based on the facts before her—a reputation Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferrara says has garnered her a lot of respect.

“I have nothing but admiration for the way she has performed on the City Council. She is very thorough, a very professional person, and very, very capable. The thing I like about her is that she focuses primarily on the issues and all the aspects of the issues,” Ferrara told the Sun. “I think probably that her colleagues on the Board of Supervisors will come to realize that while it’s probably perceived as a swing vote, her vote will be what Caren Ray thinks is right, and not the vote that people expect her to do.”

To symbolize her commitment to “balance and nonpartisanship,” before the meeting Ray recommended that the supervisors mix up their seating arrangement. Previously Supervisors Frank Mecham and Debbie Arnold sat on the left and Supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson (the board’s chair) to the right, illustrating a divide that’s often present in controversial votes. Per Ray’s recommendation, Supervisor Gibson sits in the middle as chair, with Supervisors Hill and Arnold on the right and Supervisors Mecham and Ray on the left. Among the accolades and offerings of support Ray received from her new colleagues was an appreciative observation from Mecham.

“This is obviously a great setting, because we have two roses with the three thorns on the inside,” he said.

The governor kept his cards close throughout the summer as SLO County residents waited for the news and wondered. In recent weeks, there were rumors of three, maybe four, candidates who had been flown to Sacramento for face-to-face interviews with the governor.

The process was very opaque—the Governor’s Office wouldn’t release any information or details during the appointment process, not even a list of the candidates’ names. Representatives cited a dedication to protect the candidates’ privacy, even though the appointment involved a public position that is normally chosen by the electorate. Members of the press were not the only ones frustrated with the refusal to give any hints. County residents and politicos have been inquiring, postulating, and keeping up on the word-on-the-street as they tried to predict what a potential appointment, or the continuing vacancy, would mean for items coming before the board.

The hottest issue underlying this appointment was an urgency ordinance on the table, prohibiting new and increased water use from the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, where declining water levels have dried residential wells and created an uncertain future for the viticulture industry. The urgency ordinance was temporarily passed Aug. 27 for 45 days, but the supervisors failed to extend it for the full two-year period at the Oct. 1 meeting when Supervisor Arnold voted against its extension. The supervisors held a hearing on the ordinance Oct. 8, with an outcome unknown as of press time.

Ray, who teaches history, government, and economics at Santa Maria High School, left her seat on the Arroyo Grande City Council to become supervisor. The status of her teaching position is unclear. Ray’s district encompasses Nipomo, Arroyo Grande, and Oceano, extends east along Highway 166, and includes the Huasna Valley. The seat will be up for election in 2014.

As Ray concluded her short words of gratitude, she demonstrated her commitment to a new chapter of public service with a twist.

“This weekend I went to my mailbox and found that this universe does really have a sense of humor—a jury summons,” said Ray, holding the brown envelope up in the air.

“Now, Chair Gibson, let’s get down to business.” 

 

Jono Kinkade is a contributor for New Times, the Sun’s sister paper to the north. He can be reached at jkinkade@newtimesslo.com.