Elections matter—new political leadership is greatly needed

Every year many of us make New Year’s resolutions that we sometimes keep; this year will be no different.

Instead of sharing my personal resolutions, I will talk about those that voters should make and keep in the coming year. We need new leadership in our county, state, and country. The current crop of appointed and elected folks isn’t doing that good of a job.

On the national and state levels, both California and the nation have lost the luster they once had. The national borders are open, and there are no policies in place to figure out just who is coming in to “occupy” our country; at the state level the homeless live in squalor while the state spends hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money annually with no noticeable reduction in the homeless population.

But it’s the county of Santa Barbara that needs the most help. In the last few years, the county administrator and Board of Supervisors, who are supposed to oversee government operations, have committed some expensive blunders; some we know about, others we don’t.

Under the current leadership: Noozhawk reported that “Santa Barbara County’s Water Resources Division pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to pay $750,000 in civil penalties [Nov. 29] related to oil spills from the troubled Toro Canyon oil-water-separator system,” (“Santa Barbara County Water Resources, District Attorney Settle Toro Canyon Oil Spill Case,” Nov. 29). This was in addition to a $15,000 fine and a huge tab for legal services to represent the county in court.

Not only did the county allow the oil well to leak large quantities of gooey oil, but it also failed to get the proper permits needed to operate the facility. These are the same county-issued permits all oil/gas extraction facility owners are required to obtain.

Was anyone in the Water Resources Division held accountable for this costly mistake? Not that we know of.

Next is the ambulance services contract. For the last several decades the awarding of this contract has been the purview of the Santa Barbara County Local Emergency Medical Services Agency (EMSA), a division of the County Public Health Department. Why? Because that’s what the health and safety code specifically says, that’s what they are supposed to do; they are the health experts charged with providing medical care.

American Medical Response (AMR) was originally declared the winner of the ambulance service contract by the EMSA. The Board of Supervisors voted to withdraw the contract award and awarded a new contract to the County Fire Department. AMR then filed a lawsuit against the county.

Somehow the staff concluded that the vehicle code would allow them to invalidate the EMSA choice and develop new criterion that would favor the County Fire Department. It’s important to note that the Board of Supervisors had previously authorized the purchase of 35 ambulances for the Fire Department in anticipation that it would win the contract.

I checked the vehicle code, and all the sections including the word “ambulance” refer to the licensing of drivers and inspection of the vehicles after consultation “pursuant to the recommendations of, the Emergency Medical Service Authority.”

This error is so egregious that the state attorney general thinks “AMR is likely to prevail on the merits because state law prohibits counties from creating back doors around their [local] EMSAs and selecting preferred providers through discretionary permits.”

These types of lawsuits could take many months to resolve in court and the result of this error in judgment by the Board of Supervisors could result in the loss of ambulance service after the current AMR contract expires in March. At a minimum it will cost taxpayers several hundred thousand and perhaps well over a million dollars of taxpayer money hiring a law firm to defend its decision in court.

And if—as the attorney general thinks—AMR prevails in court, the award of monetary damages would be substantial.

So, what should our New Year’s resolutions be concerning these political blunders?

New leadership is needed in the county to begin the process of improving the delivery of services. First, no district supervisor should be reelected; they have failed to properly execute their oversight responsibilities. New voices are needed to reestablish some level of trust in government.

Following the election, a new county administrator should be found who will dramatically overhaul county government so that the staff is providing the Board of Supervisors with sound advice and perform their functions based on established public law.

Most importantly, they must serve the public in a manner that doesn’t allow serious errors that cause taxpayers substantial funds to resolve.

The old saying is that “elections matter”; new political leadership is needed. But if you want to keep throwing your tax money away while the Board of Supervisors battles to justify the major mistakes of county government, then keep electing the same people. 

If not, choose someone else.

Ron Fink writes to the Sun from Lompoc. Send a letter for publication to [email protected].

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