PUBLISHED MONDAY, MAY. 03, 2010
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors badly needs a reboot.
Failing at one of their core duties, supervisors allowed the budget crisis to fester, and now they face no-win choices of what services to cut. But their challenges go much deeper, and require them to be open to new strategies and to more assertively chart the county's path.
On June 8, three of the five board seats are on the ballot. Because the election will likely produce only one new supervisor, that choice becomes even more crucial.
Fortunately, Phil Serna is an impressive candidate for the District 1 seat being vacated by board Chairman Roger Dickinson, who is running for the state Assembly.
Serna could probably have skated into office on his name alone – his father Joe Serna Jr. was a legendary Sacramento mayor from 1992 until his death in 1999 – especially after Grantland Johnson, a former county supervisor and past Sacramento City Council member, decided not to run.
Instead, Serna is taking the time to do his homework. Since taking leave from his project management firm last June, he has talked to county staffers and officials, including spending a day with a Child Protective Services worker. That knowledge will help him step right in should he take office in January.
The holdover supervisors could do worse than take their cues from Serna, both in his studious approach and in his policy priorities.
He supports interim County Executive Steve Szalay's push to find ways to provide services at lower cost by considering proposals to turn over some programs to nonprofits, contract others to private firms and consolidate agencies with other local governments. Serna says that the pension system is unsustainable and is willing to look at changes, including a cap on benefits, which may not be popular with employees and their unions.
And, rare for a politician these days, he is openly talking about the need for more revenue to help balance the budget. For instance, he wants to look into possibly taxing alcohol sales at bars and restaurants to help fund mental health and other services.
Serna, who grew up in Curtis Park and lives in Natomas, says he wants to be a problem-solver, and is giving every indication he will follow through on that pledge.
His opponent, Keith Weber, a retired North Highlands printing shop owner, says he would cut "feel-good" spending to get more sheriff's deputies on the street.
The two incumbents on the ballot – Jimmie Yee in District 2 and Don Nottoli in District 5 – enjoy likely walkovers to reelection. While they have been helpful voices on issues such as contracting out and consolidating county services, they also need to be chastened by the board's mistakes. And they need to be more engaged and not just blithely follow staff advice, especially when it's wrong.
This story is excerpted from SacBee / Opinions / Endorsements