Editorial: Gibson is a strong leader the county needs to keep

County Supervisor Bruce Gibson has impressed us as a calm, steady and capable leader over the past four years, particularly in 2009 when he served as board chairman.

Over the course of that year, he helped the county weather one crisis after another, including the widespread financial meltdown and an internal scandal that led to the ouster of the county’s top two administrators.

Those problems are far from over. San Luis Obispo County — like almost all government agencies — continues to wrestle with huge revenue shortfalls and faces more painful decisions about where to cut and what to save.

We believe it’s critical to have strong, experienced leadership during this period of economic recovery, which is one of the reasons we support Gibson in his bid to represent the North Coast for another four years.

Gibson, 57, has shown himself to be well informed on the issues, often to the point of wonkishness; he’s careful to play by the rules, sometimes to a fault; and he strives to find the best solution for everyone involved.

That doesn’t mean he satisfies everyone. Case in point: Not everyone is happy with the county’s proposal for a Los Osos sewer plant, including the state Coastal Commission, which has yet to issue a permit for the project. But we believe Gibson helped arrive at a compromise that satisfied most major concerns about the sewer. We’re impressed, too, by the energy and commitment he showed in advocating for the project, both with his fellow board members and the state Coastal Commission.

We also admire Gibson’s thoughtful, thorough analysis of the issues, and the fact that he isn’t a bloc voter. Recently, he cast the sole vote against a 100-unit housing project proposed for Templeton, after criticizing the design.

“I wouldn’t want this at the gateway to my community, either,” was his frank assessment.

To be sure, we haven’t agreed with all of Gibson’s decisions, and there are times when we wish he would show a little more flexibility. He can, for instance, be a stickler about following county rules in imposing fees and fee increases. While we would ordinarily agree with that approach, we believe it’s sometimes appropriate to cut struggling residents a break in this economy.

Gibson’s only opponent in the race, attorney Marshall Ochylski, 61, has impressive credentials, including a background in land-use planning and environmental law. Two years ago, we enthusiastically endorsed him in his bid for a seat on the Los Osos Community Services District board of directors — a position he went on to win.

In this race, however, we do not believe he has come out with a strong platform that differentiates him from Gibson. For example, when asked a hypothetical question about what past board decision he would most like to see changed, he didn’t point to a single decision that he would overturn.

However, Ochylski does fault the current board for not gathering enough input from stakeholders. As an example, he said the county should have paid more attention to ranchers and other agricultural interests when it crafted a grading ordinance.

Gibson disagrees, pointing out that the county has an extensive public hearing process that provides plenty of opportunities for input.

“A lot of people who complain we don’t listen to them really mean we don’t agree with them,” he said.

We understand his point. Now that the board has a more liberal, slow-growth majority — made up of Gibson, Jim Patterson and Adam Hill — it’s inevitable that some interest groups will be dissatisfied.

So far, however, we have not witnessed the type of rancorous battles over land use that we saw when the previous board was in power, though that may be partly due to the rotten economy and the slowdown in the number of projects going through the pipeline.

And certainly, there was no shortage of furor over the scandals that led to the downfalls of David Edge and Gail Wilcox, and involved allegations of sexual harassment and other misconduct.

While the Board of Supervisors can’t be held accountable for the behavior of each and every employee, to his credit, Gibson doesn’t shirk all responsibility for the workplace climate that allowed this to occur. In retrospect, he questions whether the board tolerated patterns of behavior that it should not have allowed.

That’s a valuable lesson to learn. We believe that experience, along with other challenges Gibson faced over the past four years, will make him an even more effective supervisor in the future.

We strongly urge District 2 voters to re-elect Supervisor Bruce Gibson.

Election 2010

Race: 2nd District County Supervisor

Candidates: Bruce Gibson, incumbent; Marshall Ochylski, president of Los Osos Community Services District board of directors

Term: 4 years

Annual salary: $82,014

Election Day: June 8