Four candidates vying for the District 3 seat on the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors made their final pitches to potential constituents prior to the June 5 primary election at a debate Monday night in the township of Tuolumne.
Unlike previous forums over the past month, the event hosted by the Tuolumne Park and Recreation District stuck closer to the format of an actual debate by giving each candidate time to answer a question and then respond to their opponents’ answers to the same.
Marie Schermeister, a junior at Summerville High School, moderated the debate and asked the candidates a series of eight pre-written questions while Summerville High sophomores Camellia Schaner and Kaila Lloyd kept track of time.
Each candidate was given three minutes for an opening statement, two minutes to answer each question, one minute for a follow-up response to their opponents’ answers, and two minutes for closing arguments.
The audience of about 80 people in the gym of Tuolumne Veterans Memorial Hall complied with the request to remain silent throughout the two-hour debate and did not applaud or cheer after any of the candidates’ answers or follow-up responses.
District 3 is the only supervisor race in which the incumbent is not running, as current Supervisor Evan Royce announced in early February that he would not seek a third consecutive term.
The four candidates in the race — Laurie Sylwester, Anaiah Kirk, Aaron Rasmussen and Merv Cancio — all participated in a previous District 3 forum held in Twain Harte, though the debate Monday night featured some questions that were specific to the township of Tuolumne.
For example, Schermeister asked candidates about their position on a proposal being pushed by Tuolumne City Sanitary District Board President John Feriani to consolidate all five special districts that provide services in the town into one community services district.
All of the candidates said they believe the decision should ultimately be left up to voters in the town, but Cancio, who lives in Twain Harte where they have a CSD that provides multiple services under one umbrella, expressed support for the idea because of the potential cost savings.
Sylwester and Rasmussen, the only two candidates who live in Tuolumne, expressed concerns about the potential downsides of consolidation, such as certain districts getting the short end of the deal and a larger bureaucracy that might discourage public involvement.
When asking what the candidates would do to support more sustainable logging, Schermeister prefaced the question by noting how the town’s economy is deeply rooted in logging, mining and agriculture, which it memorializes through annual events like the Tuolumne Lumber Jubilee.
Cancio talked about his support for the recently signed “master stewardship agreement” between involving a collaborative group of 24 entities, including environmentalists and loggers, that intends to increase pace and scale of logging projects in the Stanislaus National Forest.
Rasmussen and Kirk both said they would lobby the state and federal governments to ease environmental regulations blamed for hurting the timber industry, while Sylwester said she would push for more funding to fully staff the U.S. Forest Service.
“The U.S. Forest Service has been cut back so far,” Sylwester said. “We need feet on the ground to set up those timber sales.”
One question that the candidates weren’t asked at previous forums was regarding the age-old debate over whether Lyons Dam should be enlarged to hold back more water and whether Tuolumne Utilities District should take steps to make its ditch system more efficient.
Sylwester mentioned the “incredible cost” of increasing storage at Lyons Reservoir — at one point estimated at up to $72 million in the early 2000s — and said she would encourage looking into other ways of boosting the county’s water supply, such as underground storage and dredging existing reservoirs.
Kirk said he would go after some of the $2.7 billion for water-storage projects the state has yet to spend from the $7.5 billion water bond approved by California voters in 2014 for funding to expand Lyons.
Rasmussen, however, said he’s “not in the dam building business” and doesn’t believe the state should “ever need to go down that route again.” He said he agreed with Sylwester’s dredging suggestion because existing dams have destroyed natural resources, wildlife and native fish runs in rivers.
The District 3 candidates have targeted each other personally at previous forums and in the press more than those in some of the other contested local races on the June 5 ballot.
They mostly refrained from the personal attacks this time, though Kirk continued to make age a campaign issue. In his opening and closing statements, he asked whether people wanted a “board of supervisors made up of retired people.”
Sylwester and Cancio have both said they would retire from their teaching careers if elected to focus on being a supervisor full time, while Kirk has said he would keep his full-time job as a supervising correctional counselor at Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown where he reportedly earned about $156,000 in salary and benefits in 2016.
The position of supervisor pays about $50,000 a year, and the most recent Tuolumne County Grand Jury report stated it requires about 40 to 60 hours of work per week.
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.