Editorials

Praise be! Once-bickering SLO County supervisors are now getting along

SLO County politicians sign pledge of civility to improve communication

San Luis Obispo County political leaders signed a code of civility Thursday, June 21, 2018, the first step toward embracing regionalism. The Board of Supervisors and mayors of all seven cities were part of a ceremony marking the agreement.
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San Luis Obispo County political leaders signed a code of civility Thursday, June 21, 2018, the first step toward embracing regionalism. The Board of Supervisors and mayors of all seven cities were part of a ceremony marking the agreement.

Maybe it’s the time of year. Or the alignment of the planets. Or some super-intense, behind-the-scenes negotiating involving County Administrative Officer Wade Horton.

Whatever the reason, the warring factions on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors have figured out how to peacefully co-exist.

And yes, there is hard evidence.

Exhibit A: At its last meeting, the board unanimously and with absolutely no fanfare decided to rotate the chairmanship and — are you sitting down? — also agreed to amend its governance manual to formalize the rotation policy, which should short-circuit any future Machiavellian scheming over who gets the gavel.

And there wasn’t a peep of opposition from the public.

Isn’t that something?

While this may sound insignificant, the symbolism is huge.

Remember, the chairmanship used to be rotated among the five supervisors as a matter of routine — sidestepping any possibility of squabbling over assignments.

That all changed a couple of years ago, when the conservative majority decided the chairmanship should be earned.

It twice passed over liberal Supervisor Adam Hill as undeserving of a turn, and in another break with tradition, elected Supervisor John Peschong to two consecutive terms as chair. (In the old days, the chairmanship usually rotated every year.)

The last time Peschong was voted in as chair was especially brutal. Around 30 members of the public took turns praising Peschong and trashing Hill as a mean bully who is an embarrassment to the county.

Truth be told, some of that criticism was justified, but that doesn’t excuse using the chairmanship as a carrot to modify a supervisor’s behavior. The Board of Supervisors is not the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives, where the ruling political party gets to lord it over its vanquished foes.

All county supervisors are created equal, and it’s only fair that they rotate the chairmanship.

By the way, Hill — who took a brief leave of absence this year to seek treatment for depression — has mellowed. As he’s describes it, he’s learned to bite his tongue.

He won’t be chairman next year — that position will go to Debbie Arnold — but Hill says he’s OK with that.

“I get a sense people just want us to stop fighting and get things done,” he told us.

Hill will have his turn in 2020, followed by Lynn Compton in 2021, Bruce Gibson in 2022 and Peschong in 2023 (assuming they all remain on the board).

The board also agreed to reappoint Gibson as representative to the California State Association of Counties — a plum assignment he was stripped of a couple of years ago.

And that’s not all; the board has been on the same page on some big policy decisions, too.

Earlier this month, supervisors voted unanimously to approve a package of programs aimed at creating more affordable housing.

Even conservative supervisors went along with the idea of dedicating some county funds to affordable housing — something they had opposed when Hill and Gibson raised the idea during the 2017 budget hearings.

Looking ahead, no one expects — or even wants — the board to be in agreement on every issue. That would be, well, creepy.

Supervisors should forcefully, even passionately, make their case — that’s one of the reasons they were elected.

But constituents are fed up with the sniping and sarcasm and meanness infecting politics at every level, from Washington, D.C., to San Luis Obispo County.

No one is demanding that elected officials be best buds. But it’s not asking too much to request that they find ways to collaborate and keep a civil tongue — even if they have to bite it once in a while.

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