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Bravos and Barbs: June 2009 edition

In this era of legislative incompetence, plunging revenues, service cuts and great uncertainty, you would think good news would be hard to find.

You would be wrong: This edition of Bravos and Barbs — The Union Democrat’s occasionally regular compendium of the good, the bad and the ugly in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties — includes many more of the former than the latter.

Without further ado, the end-of-spring edition of B & B:

• To the Sonora Area Foundation and to hundreds of generous donors across Tuolumne County, for organizing and contributing to the hugely successful and much-needed May SOS campaign. With proceeds benefiting Meals on Wheels, food banks and Interfaith Community Social Services, the foundation’s matching-funds campaign in one month raised more than $250,000 in gifts and — with SAF’s match — will deliver more than a half-million dollars to the three charities.

• To the late Randy Hunsaker, whose tireless work and fundraising efforts as head of Sierra Senior Providers kept Meals on Wheels running and made the Tuolumne County Senior Center a warm and welcome home away from home for hundreds. Hunsaker will be sorely missed, but thanks to the work he did and thanks to gifts from the Sonora Area Foundation and other sources, the programs will continue to serve foothill seniors.

• To Lt. Mike Ayala, who on June 29 will retire after 30 years with the California Highway Patrol and 10 years at the helm of its Jamestown office. His tenure here included helping Officer Mike Remmel return to work after losing parts of both his legs in a patrol car crash while responding to an emergency. Kudos also go to CHP Officer Tom Wills, a 28-year CHP veteran who was official spokesman for the Jamestown office for most of his 12 years here.

• To Sonora Police Officer Jeff Aitken, who not only survived a May 16 pursuit that ended in a high-speed crash on Lyons-Bald Mountain Road, but is undaunted by the months of recovery ahead of him and would like nothing more than to return to duty. But, tempering courage with realism, Aitken has already charted several alternative plans if he is unable to rejoin the force. In the end he concedes that the future is not all that important right now. What is, he said, “is that I’m alive.”

• To Tuolumne County Historian Carlo De Ferrari, who last week celebrated his 86th birthday among friends at the county archive building that bears his name. With the help of archive manager Charlie Dyer, De Ferrari has set up a formal office at the building, which is now also home to his extensive historical library.

• To Tuolumne County employee unions, which have agreed to concessions which will save nearly $4.7 million in the coming fiscal year. Without the concessions — which include unpaid furlough days, benefit reductions and agreements not to cash out personal leave — dozens more employees would be laid off. County Administrator Craig Pedro, who will forego personal leave and work 10 days without pay in fiscal 2009-10, should also be commended for setting a worthy example.

• To Caltrans and to project advocates in Angels Camp and elsewhere in Calaveras County, for somehow seeing the $61.5 million Angels Bypass to completion both under budget and a year early. Such performance, virtually unheard of in the slow-moving realm of big government, will be celebrated at a gala grand opening scheduled for July 22.


• To Caltrans, whose decision to raze its long-dormant office and maintenance shed at Mono Way and Greenley Road amid an epic state budget deficit raises questions. Like why, 16 years after abandoning the Sonora site for a new yard at Montezuma Junction, is now the time to destroy a cottage-style building that is more than 60 years old?

• To Calaveras County Sheriff Dennis Downum, who last week slammed county supervisors for a “lack of transparency” and foresight in their budget process. This prompted a quick and none-too-kind response from Russ Thomas, chairman of the board.

While budget details should rightfully be public information, making dramatic cuts in expenses is never easy and doing so amid a vitriolic and very political debate is far tougher.

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