Tuesday night was a familiar scene to those following Santa Barbara County politics in recent years — Janet Wolf and Dr. Dan Secord, both candidates for the 2nd District office of the Board of Supervisors, sitting behind a table on the stage at the Goleta Valley Community Center.
Secord even sounded much the same as he did four years ago, citing his expertise on all things financial and pointing to his experience on the Santa Barbara City Council and the California Coastal Commission.
Wolf, however, was armed with something she didn’t have when the two squared off four years ago: more than three years of experience as a county supervisor. Wolf, who beat Secord in the 2006 general election by more than 1,500 votes out of 32,206 total, was attacked in the 2006 campaign for a lack of experience, despite having served as a school board member for 11 years and a small-business owner for almost twice that.
This time around, she spent much of her time defending her tenure on the board. Where Secord saw fiscal woes because of an irresponsible board, Wolf saw a board responding to the worst financial climate in years that was having an impact on local, state, and federal jurisdictions everywhere.
Secord, as he did four years ago, said the county needed to establish a finance committee in the fashion that many cities had, including Santa Barbara, where he served eight years on the City Council. “The county does not have a fiscal champion,” he said, noting the increasing county deficits each year for the past three years. “That’s basically what I’d do. The finance is the big thing and the finance committee would really help.”
Wolf responded, saying that each supervisor is a fiscal champion, intimately involved with the budget process, and that the board comprised the finance committee. She noted that since the board only had five members, a committee could by law have at most two members of the board of supervisors sitting on it. “The county is not the city,” she said, adding that she had implemented a springtime budget review hearing to allow the board to share their thoughts and priorities with county staff when it came to how funds should be allocated come June.
Secord agreed with much of what Wolf was saying outside of fiscal issues, echoing her thoughts about making informed decisions and working hard to collaborate with different community groups, board members, and others in making decisions.
The sticking point this election (vote-by-mail ballots go out May 10, the election is June 8) will be the budget. It’s Secord’s area of expertise and really the only arena where Wolf could possibly be seen as vulnerable after a very solid first term on the board, given the couty’s current financial state. Secord is clear in his attempt to tie the county’s fiscal woes to his opponent, while she said her leadership has moved the county forward in the face of tough times and that to dump the fiscal woes on her is not right.
Secord, a fiscal conservative, said the county needs to get its reserves back, a fund once robust that had been “decimated” by the current left-leaning board. Even at Tuesday’s meeting, he noted, the board approved an energy program that would deplete the reserves even further, despite the fiscal issues of today. “The rainy days are not going away right away,” he said. “The same kind of thinking that got us into this mess is not going to get us out of it.”
Wolf responded, saying the county still had more than $20 million in reserves, and that the board has been working hard to deal with the budget deficit. She noted that the negotiated employee furlough program — the first of its kind around the state — saved the county more than $10 million last year, and the board also negotiated the elimination of raises for union-member employees. She also explained the county had a bond rating of AA-plus, the highest possible. “No one can say our county is being run in a fiscally irresponsible way,” she said.
Secord also mentioned Wolf’s tie to unions, groups that gave Wolf in excess of $100,000 during the last campaign, and said that relationship has led to pension plans that are out of control. “They’ve gotten politicians to give them more and more and more,” he said. “It’s hard to say no to your friends.” Wolf, however, said she was proud to be endorsed and supported by county workers unions and countered with a dig at Secord, saying he was seeking the endorsement of the same groups he was bashing.
The budget, combined with the 2010 election year appearing to be generally anti-incumbent and anti-Democrat, gives Secord — who didn’t jump into the race until the very last moment — a fighting chance to compete, though it remains to be seen how his message resonates with 2nd District voters.