Sunday, May 8, 2016

Special Interests and Cronyism Sully Supervisors' Decisions

Special Interests and Cronyism Sully Supervisors' Decisions

Posted by: Mimi Willard - May 8, 2016 - 6:07pm

In an anti-establishment election year, voters should ask what our incumbent supervisors and career politicians are doing for US.

Campaign filings show our current supervisors are beholden to special interest money and the Establishment political cabal, which together can account for the majority of the money flowing to a reelection campaign.

Bad decisions result from these unfortunate allegiances.

Per Dick Spotswood, $20 million was spent on a single bike bridge over Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

Ross Valley residents now face the prospect of an $18 million Sir Francis Drake “improvement” project, which Supervisor Rice promotes. Drake will be dug up for 2-3 years to implement changes designed to permanently slow traffic on this already-clogged, vital arterial.

Ghilotti Construction, which did much of the work for the bike bridge and will likely bid for the Drake project, has been a major contributor to Supervisors Rice, Arnold and Kinsey. Rice received $3,000 from Ghilotti so far this year.

Other big donors to incumbent supervisors are regional unions and political action committees representing construction workers, building trades, machinists, sheet metal workers, and carpenters. The construction industry is particularly keen on Rice, contributing generously and repeatedly to her “campaign” regardless of whether an election is near. Supervisor Sears also accepts construction industry money.

Is it any surprise our Supervisors greenlighted construction of four times the high density housing units mandated by regional agencies?

In approving that unpopular, bloated housing element, our Supervisors alsoviolated the Brown Act’s requirements for proper public notice and hearing process.

Unions representing Marin’s public employees, transit workers, firefighters and deputy sheriffs also contribute heavily to incumbents. Supervisors must approve any changes to public employees’ compensation, benefits, and pensions. Mushrooming compensation costs and a huge unfunded pension liability mean the county can’t maintain services and infrastructure without add-on taxes and fees that make Marin unaffordable. Yet our supervisors unanimously rejected a Grand Jury report calling for greater transparency in employee contract negotiations.

Other parties vying for contracts awarded by supervisors also help fund campaigns. These include civil engineers and consultants; refuse companies; landscape contractors; transit, ambulance, and health care companies. Many contracts are awarded or re-upped without competitive bids.

Supervisors recently bestowed Marin Sanitary, a generous contributor to several of their campaigns, a 6% rate hike payable by unincorporated area residents.

Stetson Engineers donated multiple times to Rice. The Board of Supervisors has so far awarded Stetson $650,000 in contracts for consulting services related to Ross Valley flood control planning. Despite total consultant spending of $2.5-5 million to date, the county hasn’t moved a single shovel of dirt and is not close to having an acceptable flood control plan.

In Sleepy Hollow, Rice’s neighborhood, homeowners will soon enjoy a new private clubhouse, thanks to the supervisors approving a $25,000 “grant” from their slush fund plus a $2+ million transfer of public funds toward its construction.

Roughly two dozen of the clubhouse’s financial supporters donated heavily to Rice’s campaign coffers.

It’s rare (if ever) that a supervisor recuses him or herself from votes like those above.

Rice stridently rebuffed calls to recuse herself from the Sleepy Hollow Clubhouse vote.

Constituents wonder: “Who represents US?”

Equally troubling is how our Supervisors cater to the Establishment’s crony cabal. A lot of Rice’s funds come from current, past, and wanna-be members of Marin’s political class. Some serve at the supervisors’ pleasure. Some are undoubtedly friends. And some say a contribution (and endorsement) is what it takes to ensure the county takes care of constituents’ needs. The latter is particularly disturbing.

Bad stuff also happens when political allegiance trumps the voters’ interests.

When Larkspur considered approving massive new development at Larkspur Landing (opposed by Rice’s challenger, Kevin Haroff) that would have paralyzed traffic in her district, Supervisor Rice declined to intervene, citing a tradition of deferring to local control. (Conversely, when San Anselmo’s leaders proposed turning Memorial Park into a flood detention basin, Rice vainly endorsed her allies’ unpopular project in a letter to the editor of the Marin IJ.)

When you receive the current supervisors’ campaign mailings, question whether the long list of cross-endorsements serves YOUR interests.

Much that we hold dear about Marin is at stake. Returning Marin’s career politicians to office solves nothing. We need new leadership.

The June 7 election provides a chance to vote for positive change.

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