The 2020 presidential primary election in California is still almost nine months away, but some prospective candidates are already lining up to potentially run for the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisorial Districts 1, 4, and 5 will be up for grabs in the primary on March 3, 2020, which is being held three months earlier this cycle due to legislation passed by former Gov. Jerry Brown aimed at giving the state a larger voice in the presidential nomination process.

Incumbent District 4 Supervisor John Gray announced in April that he will not seek a fourth consecutive four-year term. Incumbents District 1 Supervisor Sherri Brennan and District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer have yet to announce their plans.

Rodefer said he remains undecided and is leaving his options open, while Brennan has not responded to requests for comment. Both are serving their second consecutive four-year term, which expires in January 2021.

Two hopefuls have filed declarations of their intentions to run and launched their campaign websites — David Goldemberg for District 1 and Dameion Renault for District 4 — while three others have told The Union Democrat they are exploring possible bids.

Goldemberg, 65, who lives in Apple Valley Estates outside the city limits of Sonora, said he never had a longstanding desire to run for county supervisor, but believes the board needs new leadership and ideas.

“I think a fresh look is needed in the county,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of tremendously capable people, but there’s a lack of cohesiveness to bring all of the groups together.”

The controversy over the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority is part of what motivated Goldemberg to run because he was frustrated by what he viewed as a lack of transparency shown by the current leadership on the issue.

Goldemberg also said he believes the authority’s efforts were focused too much on the needs of “one particular set of people,” and the county should take a more global and inclusive approach to economic development.

“I just feel overall there was a lack of caring,” he said of how officials handled the TCEDA. “It wasn’t until the county was forced under a lot of pressure to take matters more seriously.”

As a retired veteran of Cal Fire who now runs a consulting business, Goldemberg believes his mix of experience can bring a unique perspective to challenges the county is facing.

Goldemberg moved to the county in 1982 and has been married to his wife, Linda, for 28 years. He also has a grown son, Tyler Seth, who’s 34 and works for Tesla near Sparks, Nevada.

Goldemberg is an avid photographer and serves on the committee for the annual InFocus Photography Competition and Exhibition put on by Tuolumne County Arts.

“I don’t think enough attention is being placed on the arts as far as what it can do to bring in more people,” he said. “Not just tourists, but also people who would want to move here.”

Sonora City Councilwoman Connie Williams told The Union Democrat that she’s “leaning toward” running for the District 1 seat as well, but she wasn’t ready to announce anything officially or provide further comment.

Williams, 72, is serving her second consecutive four-year term on the council, which expires at the end of June. She served as mayor from 2016 to 2018, the third woman to do so in the city’s 168-year history.

The district is the smallest of all five in terms of land size and encompasses the county seat and only incorporated city, Sonora, as well as surrounding neighborhoods just outside the city limits.

In contrast, District 4 is the largest and covers an area to the south stretching from East Sonora to Big Oak Flat, Groveland, Pine Mountain Lake, and Lake Don Pedro, as well as a large undeveloped portion of Yosemite National Park.

Renault, 42, has lived in Groveland for more than five years with his wife, Melinda, and children, George, 10, and Autumn, 7. They previously lived in Southern California but moved to the county when he got a job developing rehabilitation programs at Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown.

Since January 2018, Renault has worked for San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton managing programs aimed at helping students succeed who were foster youth, homeless, incarcerated, or suffering from severe mental illness.

“As I was building programs and working within the prison system, I realized that too many of them were back in the system too fast,” he said of why he switched jobs. “I decided what I really needed to do was be on the outside and make sure they don’t come back in.”

One of the reasons that Renault pursued such a career is because he grew up in foster homes and understands the struggles that can last into adulthood.

Renault said the number of students in the programs he manages has grown from 15 to a little over 200 since he started more than a year ago. Now, he wants to do similar work within his own county and sees becoming a supervisor as an avenue for that.

“Driving through my county, the county I love, I see the same struggles that I’m seeing here in San Joaquin County,” he said. “I really believe I need to do the work I’m doing here back home and feel that supervisor is one of the ways I can do that.”

One of Renault’s goals if elected is to prioritize youth development programs because he doesn’t believe there’s enough support for youth and families.

On the economy, Renault said one of his ideas is to promote more entertainment that will attract more visitors. He also supports the county hiring an in-house economic development director because he believes it will provide more transparency and supervision.

Kathleen Haff, 66, of Lambert Lake Estates in East Sonora, said she’s strongly considering running for the District 4 seat but has yet to file a declaration of intent or launch a campaign website. She’s held several listening sessions at people’s homes within the district to hear their concerns.

Something that Haff said she’s taken away from the sessions so far is that there’s a “big need for people to be heard.”

“I’m doing these listening sessions to hear what constituents want, then I’ll take that to build a platform,” she said.

Haff believes her mix of private and public sector experience would be an asset to the board, including 17 years with the county. She retired in 2017 as the deputy director of the Tuolumne County Public Power Agency, but served in various other roles throughout her career.

Former County Administrator Craig Pedro would “lovingly” refer to her as his contrarian, Haff said, because she wasn’t afraid to advocate for trying out different things.

One example Haff cited is her longstanding advocacy for enshrining policies governing broadband infrastructure in the General Plan and county ordinance code, something that still hasn’t happened despite a recent 20-year update to the plan.

Haff said creating a policy would help county planners streamline the process for broadband Internet providers to build infrastructure, which could in turn boost access for unserved and underserved areas.

“That gives you the guidelines on how to proceed outward from that,” she said of a broadband policy. “In my opinion, that’s what board members are supposed to do. They’re supposed to have the big vision and set the policy.”

Haff moved back to the county in 2000 from Oregon, where she moved to raise her family after living here full time for several years in the 1980s.

She lives on three acres with her husband, Robert C. Haff, and has two grown children from her previous marriage, Austen Rustrum, 38, who works as a lead product manager for eBay in Portland, and Chelsea Rustrum, 36, an entrepreneur and author who wrote a book on the sharing economy and is living in Italy.

The District 5 field appears to be wide open with Rodefer undecided and another person who’s expressed interest in the seat, Jaron Brandon, 27, undecided as well.

Brandon, who grew up in Columbia and Jamestown, which are both within district, said he’s not as far along in the exploration phase as Haff and still talking with people and gathering information.
Robbie Bergstrom, assistant county clerk, said people can’t file as an official candidate until Nov. 11, but they can begin campaigning and fundraising. He also said they can pull petitions beginning Sept. 12 to collect signatures that reduce their filing fee depending on how many valid ones they gather from their respective districts.

The county Elections Office released a 108-page document last week on its website that details essential dates, filing requirements and other information for people looking to run for office in the 2020 primary.

Other local seats that will be on the ballot are two Superior Court judgeships currently filled by Judges Kate Powell Segerstrom and James Boscoe, as well as three seats on the Sonora City Council currently held by Williams, Mayor Pro-Tem Matt Hawkins, and Councilman Mark Plummer.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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