Opinion Columns & Blogs

County parts with years

In any workplace, people come and people go, and so it is with county government. Last week the county lost four people whose combined years serving the citizenry add up to more than half a century.

The headliner was Katcho Achadjian, who was elected to the state Assembly, where he will be sworn in Dec. 6.

He leaves the county Board of Supervisors at midnight Dec. 5, after three terms and 12 years.

But he is not departing alone. Two of his work associates signed out Tuesday as well, as did a third man whose parting had no relation to Achadjian’s, but who, like the supervisor, gave more than a decade to the county.

That would be County Fire Chief Matt Jenkins, who is leaving after 33 years with the fire service, including 14 with the county. Supervisors praised him for exemplifying the principle that fire service “is not about the individual, nor is it just a job. It is about providing a selfless service to the citizens.”

Two others who depart with Achadjian are Planning Commissioner Gene Mehlschau and Achadjian’s legislative assistant, Vicki Janssen.

Achadjian named Mehlschau, a South County rancher, to the Planning Commission in 2001 to represent the perspective of agriculture, and Mehlschau succeeded at that, Achadjian said Tuesday. Mehlschau did so in a quiet, nonflamboyant way, weighing in on issues from the Santa Margarita Ranch to Tefft Street in Nipomo.

Mehlschau’s demeanor on the sometimes volatile Planning Commission was “calm and gentlemanly,” said Supervisor Bruce Gibson, a former planning commissioner.

Janssen received nearly as many plaudits as Achadjian, including a tribute from the emotional supervisor, whose voice broke as he was thanking her.

Many speakers praised her for treating everyone with respect as well as being so knowledgeable about county government that insiders call her “Vicki-pedia.” Janssen will continue to work with Achadjian when he moves to the Assembly.

But most of the fanfare went to the long-time supervisor.

A going-away event like this is a bit like a funeral — nobody speaks ill of the soon-to-be-departed. To the jaded, it would be easy to assume that everyone is putting on their best face. After all, is it likely that anyone is going to stand up and say “good riddance”?

Conversely, you could take the ceremonies at face value. In this case, the tributes seemed beyond sincere, even from those whose politics part company with Achadjian’s.

There, for example, was Supervisor Adam Hill, who disagrees with Achadjian on many issues, praising him for his well-known penchant to “attend everything possible.”

“You just can’t keep up with him,” Hill said, adding that he suspects Achadjian was present at Woodstock and perhaps Appomattox.

Bruce Gibson lauded Achadjian’s warmth. But the most emotional salute came from former Supervisor Shirley Bianchi, a liberal Democrat who fought with Republican Achadjian over land use and other issues.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who had a more passionate commitment to the welfare of children,” Bianchi said, just before giving him a hug.

All in all, it was a warm event, and several speakers had two suggestions for the new Assemblyman. First, try and bring some of that warmth and cooperative spirit to the fractious Legislature.

And, they said in so many words, don’t forget the meetings at which supervisors railed about the ill treatment counties get from the state. In other words, don’t be a stranger, and don’t forget the counties.

The advice may have been superfluous. It seems unlikely that the gregarious Achadjian, with his deep community roots and county service, would go to Sacramento and forget where he came from.

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