New Tuolumne County supervisors prepare to take office next weeDavid Goldemberg, Kathleen Haff and Jaron Brandon officially became Tuolumne County supervisors when they were sworn into office at noon on Monday, representing a sea change in the county’s top elected leadership for the first time in more than eight years.
The trio also made incumbent county supervisors Anaiah Kirk and Ryan Campbell the senior-most members of the board with two years each under their belts. So, what are the top priorities and most pressing goals that the new members want to tackle first?
All three said in separate interviews prior to being sworn in that managing the county’s COVID-19 pandemic response has risen to the top of their lists since the spread of the virus has exploded in the past two months, resulting in hundreds of new cases and more than dozen deaths this month alone.
Goldemberg, who got more votes than incumbent County Supervisor Sherri Brennan in March and defeated write-in candidate Cody Ritts in November for the District 1 seat, said he believes looking at measures for enforcing restrictions to prevent the deadly pandemic from continuing to spiral out of control should be part of the discussion.
“I want the business community to understand I’m not out to get them by any means, but we need to look at this and decide how we can work together,” he said. “Being defiant is the wrong answer, it’s not going to cut it.
“We’ve had fatalities and a tremendous amount of cases. We’re paying the price for not doing some things early on, which I’m not saying would have stopped all of this, but could have certainly kept things better than what has occurred.”
Haff, who was victorious over Dameion Renault in the March 3 primary election to claim the District 4 seat being vacated by retiring County Supervisor John Gray after 12 years, said she believes the board needs to look deeper into what extent the Constitution upholds the shutdowns that are hammering small local businesses.
The inequities created by big-box stores being allowed to remain open while smaller businesses “die on the vine” are what’s most troubling to Haff about the current situation, though she noted that she’s not saying everyone should be able to do whatever they want no matter the risk to public health.
“I really do believe people need to take more personal responsibility with this, but they’re talking about new strains and from that, I could see this as being a perpetual lockdown situation,” she said. “We have a right to life and liberty here and that’s being taken away. There has to be some other middle way of working through this.”
Brandon, who beat out County Supervisor Karl Rodefer for the District 5 seat, said believes the board should follow the lead of the county Public Health Department while also working proactively to “get cases under control and return to some semblance of normal life.”
Outside of the pandemic, all three soon-to-be supervisors said in separate interviews that the first goal they would like to achieve is improving transparency and getting more people involved with county government.
One way that Brandon believes the board could increase participation is by adding more meetings to make each shorter. He also personally plans to hold monthly town halls with constituents as he promised on the campaign trail and is looking into the possibility of offering internships for students.
“We need to get our economy back on track for revenue and show the public not only that we’re earning their support and votes, but that we’re spending their dollars in a trustworthy and effective way to make their lives better,” he said.
Haff had the most time of the three new supervisors between securing her seat and taking office and said she’s used that opportunity to glean knowledge from Gray, connect with the heads of county departments and read through the county ordinance so she can “hit the ground running.”
Four goals that Haff wants to tackle first include making public participation in meetings easier and more welcoming, achieve her longtime desire of incorporating broadband internet into the ordinance code and General Plan, create more robust enforcement measures related to defensible space clearing and develop a long-range economic vision.
“We have boards in the past whose management style has been to manage what’s in front of you,” she said. “I’d like to start in the creation of an economic vision for the county with a roadmap for how to get there that’s 20 years from now, 50 years from now, and what do we need to do now to start the process.”
One of Goldemberg’s cornerstone issues as a former career firefighter is improving fire safety, which he hopes to do through advocating for enhanced public education and publishing more information about evacuation routes and places in the county where people can safely shelter in place if necessary while a wildfire burns around them.
Goldemberg said to accomplish the goal of improving the public perception of county government, the board needs to be more approachable, listen to what people have to say, and genuinely encourage their participation.
“People in the county wanted change, they elected new members because of that, and we owe it to them to do our part,” he said.
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 768-5175.