Eight elected officials in Tuolumne County swore their oaths of office to the public on Monday in Sonora, with three of them being joined by their young children, who ranged in age from 2 to 8.
The amount of youth on display was unique from the previous times that Debi Bautista said she has presided over the swearing-in of local elected officials as the county auditor-controller and registrar of voters.
“We have a lot of younger families represented by our elected officials,” said Bautista, which was met with strong applause by the roughly 200 people in the overflowing Board of Supervisors’ chambers on the fourth floor of the County Administration Center.
Donald Segerstrom, presiding judge of Tuolumne County Superior Court, administered the oath of office to Bautista, Sheriff Bill Pooley, Treasurer-Tax Collector Justin Birtwhistle, Superintendent of Schools Cathy Parker, Assessor-Recorder Kaenan Whitman, District Attorney Laura Krieg, District 3 Supervisor Anaiah Kirk, and District 2 Supervisor Ryan Campbell.
Segerstrom also read a quote about the significance of public service from former South African president Nelson Mandela and — as a self-professed “sci-fi geek” — another quote from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” author Douglas Adams.
Parker, Kirk, Campbell, Pooley and Birtwhistle are new to their positions after winning election last year, while Whitman, Krieg and Bautista are returning incumbents. It marked the first time in four years that the county has sworn in some new faces.
Kirk, 34, was sworn in with his daughter, Amelia, 8, and son, Warren, 6, by his side. He said after the ceremony that his children’s future was one of the main reasons he decided to run for office.
“I really want them to stick around,” he said. “Let’s get broadband and job attraction to maintain younger generations.”
Many reports have shown the county’s population as both declining and aging over the past 10-plus years, a trend that’s become common in many rural areas throughout the United States.
The latest estimates released last month from the state Department of Finance had the county’s population at 52,790, down from 55,240 in 2010.
Kirk said he believes that making communities more prepared for fires has become the top issue that the board should focus on over the next year following the recent destructive blazes seen throughout the state.
Campbell, 37, was joined by his daughters, River, 5, Chloé, 4, and Evangeline, 2. He, too, said that preparing communities for fires is the most important thing the board can focus on over the next year.
“We have to do more to better protect our communities from fire hazards,” he said.
Combatting tree mortality has been the focus of Campbell’s work for the past two-plus years as an administrative analyst in the county Office of Emergency Services, where he wrote a grant application that netted the county more than $1 million for clearing fire hazards along 140 miles of roads.
Campbell also said one of the main reasons he ran for supervisor was to help provide a better future for his children.
Kirk and Campbell each took their seats for the first time after being sworn in and voted in favor of electing District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer as board chairman for the next year and District 1 Supervisor Sherri Brennan as vice chairwoman.
Rodefer also distributed his selections for committee assignments over the next year.
“I want to welcome all the new board members to the board,” Rodefer said. “Looking forward to working with you all.”
Campbell defeated two-term incumbent Randy Hanvelt in the Nov. 6 election. Kirk was victorious over opponent Laurie Sylwester, both of whom were vying to replace former District 3 Supervisor Evan Royce after he decided not to seek re-election.
District 4 Supervisor John Gray served as the board chairman for his third time over the past year and called it “probably the most difficult” of them all. He’s the longest-serving board member and entering his 11th year in office.
Also during the swearing-in ceremony, Whitman was joined by his three sons Joshua, 5, David, 4 and Jonathan, 2.
Whitman, 36, ran unopposed in the June primary election for a second consecutive four-year term as the county’s assessor-recorder. He said he plans to continue upgrading the office’s technology to provide more online services.
Birtwhistle has been serving as the treasurer-tax collector for more than a month since the retirement of former Treasurer-Tax Collector Shelley Piech on Dec. 3. He won the seat outright in the June primary election after defeating opponent Michelle Ronning.
Pooley has served as county sheriff since July 3, though he also ran unopposed in the June primary election.
Former Sheriff Jim Mele announced he would retire early before the end of his final term as a cost-saving measure to protect the department from budget cuts, at a time when the county was facing a possible deficit.
“It’s been fantastic,” Pooley said of his time as sheriff so far. “We’re starting a bunch of new programs and getting the jail built this year.”
Pooley said the office is planning to launch an explorer program for younger people looking to pursue a career in law enforcement, as well as issues related to homelessness and blight the community.
Pooley said he plans to model the project on homelessness after a similar one he previously oversaw in Jamestown, which involved assigning a deputy who would work directly with the homeless, residents and business owners in the community.
Krieg, Parker and Bautista also ran unopposed in the June primary election.
Parker takes over for retired Margie Bulkin, who retired for the position and won election to the Yosemite Community College District’s Board of Trustees.
This will be Krieg’s second consecutive four-year term as district attorney, and Bautista’s fourth as auditor-controller.
Segerstrom and fellow Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge Kevin Seibert also ran unopposed in the June primary election to each secure an additional six-year term on the bench.