That was quite the dust-up at the government center last week between health care exec Ron Castle on the one hand and county Supervisor Bruce Gibson and his trusty supervisor sidekick Adam Hill on the other.
It got so raucous at times that it brought a nostalgic tear to my eye as I fondly recalled the donnybrook days when the Three Amigos — Supervisors Harry Ovitt, Katcho Achadjian and Jerry Lenthall — and their developer pals would square off against the no- and slow-growthers.
You remember that latter group, don’t you? Folks descended directly from early cavemen who, back in Neanderthal days, worked to keep low-income caverns and other refuges for the hoi polloi away from their slice of the mountain.
The fracases between the descendants of Og, chairman of the Mossy Cave Homeowners Association, and the Three Amigos, while entertaining in their way, used to alarm many people, not least of whom were those who like to see government run smoothly.
And that describes the current Board of Supervisors perfectly: They are efficient. I have often joked that covering them is no fun because they are so workmanlike.
One of the reasons for their smooth operation is that they have made sure that any unpleasantness surrounding a given government decision is more or less taken care of at the staff level before it gets to them.
Faceless bureaucrats iron things out away from the public eye.
That avoids any distasteful public displays of strong disagreement with the board.
You can view this technique as good management. Or, you could look at it as an unseemly attempt to blunt public debate.
What happened Tuesday was closer to the latter view.
For those who missed it, the discussion was supposed to be about providing health care to those who either don’t have it or have trouble obtaining it. But it turned out to be more about egos and attempts to control the public discussion.
Even before they heard from Castle, who directs Community Health Centers, supervisors were annoyed at him for challenging a county decision to cut back on its contribution to health care for the poor.
Gibson told Castle that cutting back on the county contribution was painful, and he found the implication that supervisors don’t care “absolutely offensive.”
Then he took on the mien of a prosecutor on “Law & Order” and began to grill Castle about executive salaries at Community Health Centers. Hill chimed in by asking how much property the organization owns. Before the meeting, Hill had emailed the salaries of CHC executives to the media, including The Tribune.
The implication was that Community Health Centers should trim their salaries and sell property if they were so worried about the poor.
Supervisors also assailed a postcard campaign CHC orchestrated, wherein people who had been helped by CHC told their stories to the supervisors.
Aimed at your run-of-the-mill supplicant in the audience from the supervisors’ elevated dais, this kind of verbal assault could be intimidating.
But Castle is no pushover.
“I don’t need a lecture from you about the safety net,” Castle shot back. “I work with it every day.”
“I really resent the suggestion that we’re part of the problem” he went on. “We’re the good guys here.”
In the end, supervisors went ahead with their cuts and told county leaders to work with Castle to find ways to ensure that nobody “falls through the safety net,” to use the trendy phrase. Good luck with that, given the steam coming out of ears on both sides.
Apart from the substance of the supervisors’ discussion, which The Tribune reported earlier this week, the Castle-Gibson fisticuffs revealed the downside of super-efficiency.
People and organizations that consider efficiency the be-all and end-all don’t like to be challenged. The textbook allusion on this subject is the phrase, “Mussolini made the trains run on time.”
The tyrant got things done, but there was this dark side, see.
I’m not suggesting that Gibson and Hill are Mussolini reincarnated. I am saying that, based on this episode, they clearly like to keep control and don’t like being challenged.
Those are not appealing qualities in an elected official.