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High Approval Ratings Or Voter Apathy?

Why 23 incumbents face no challengers
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When Placer and Nevada County voters go to the polls this November, there will be a number of candidates’ names missing from the ballot. Twenty-two names to be exact. No, it’s not a case of election tampering or rigged ballots. In fact, it’s perfectly legit. Voters won’t get a chance to cast their votes for these candidates for one simple reason – they are running unopposed.

California state law dictates that any candidate involved in a no-contest race be appointed by the board of supervisors in lieu of an election. This is true for all candidates except for ones who ran in the primaries. That’s why only one unopposed candidate’s name will appear on the ballot – that of Republican Assemblyman Ted Gaines. Voters will have an opportunity to choose between Gaines and a blank line for 'write-in.'

But just because the other 22 candidates don’t hold a state-wide office like Gaines doesn’t mean their position isn’t important. They will be deciding vital local issues from replacing aging sewer lines to negotiating teacher contracts to building new fire stations, all involving how taxpayer dollars are spent.

Power of Incumbency
Besides running in uncontested races, these candidates have another thing in common – all 23 of them are incumbents. Ryan Ronco, Placer County assistant registrar of voters, said that he has noticed that incumbents tend to go unchallenged. Ronco said there could be a number of reasons for this trend.

'Certainly it could be that the incumbent is doing a very good job, or people who would otherwise run don’t feel they could raise the money, or they don’t even know how to run for office,' he said, noting that some interested citizens call the elections office too late to file as a candidate (the deadline is often 88 to 113 days before an election). 'This is sometimes way before the public even thinks about it.'

Or could it be that people are just apathetic when it comes to public service? Truckee Fire Protection District boardmember Bob Snyder took a guess as to why no one is running against him.

'Either people are satisfied with the job I’m doing or there’s no interest in it,' he said.

For some boards, unchallenged incumbents are the norm. In her eight years at the Truckee Donner Recreation and Parks District, District Clerk Sue Mitchell has never seen anyone run against one of the board members.

'I think people only run against boards that have some kind of problem or conflict,' said Mitchell, citing the adage 'If it’s not broke don’t fix it.' 'I guess it’s because the district runs so smoothly, so people think leave well enough alone.'

Other boards, like that of the Tahoe City Public Utility District, see frequent challenges. TCPUD General Manager Cindy Gustafson said that director Ron Treabess, who is running unopposed this year, has faced an opponent in every other election since he was first elected in 1987. What’s different this time around?

'I speculate that people feel good about his reputation as one of their board members,' Gustafson said. 'It’s also a challenge to have to run against somebody.'

It is interesting to note that of the three TCPUD seats up for election, the seat with the most candidates running – Seat 3 with four candidates – does not have an incumbent. Director Kelly Atchley is not running again since she is moving.

One downside to an unchallenged incumbent is that the office-holder is not forced to account for his past actions or defend his future plans to his constituents. Treabess said that’s unfortunate.

'It’s good for incumbents to explain what they are intending to do, and see if people still agree with that,' he said.

Here some of the incumbents do just that – give voters a chance to know what they are up to:

Alpine Springs County Water District
Virginia Quinan was elected to the Alpine Springs County Water District three years ago. She decided to run after going to board meetings for several years.

'I was not happy with what was going on with the district,' said Quinan, who has had a house in Alpine Meadows since 1980. 'I felt I could make a difference if I was on the board.'

Since she joined the board, Quinan said the district is in much better financial shape and has started to deal with many of the problems of its aging, 40-year old infrastructure. The district has also increased its water supply necessary for peak demand and contracted with the North Tahoe Fire Protection District to provide service to Alpine Meadows. However, the latter meant that the district had to raise rates since 80 percent of its property taxes now went to the NTFPD.

Quinan said her goal is to continue the board’s progress.

'We now seem to be on a sound financial basis, and we have money to improve our capital facilities,' she said. 'My goal is to keep perking along.'

State Assembly 4th District
Assemblyman Ted Gaines (R) had already served on the City of Roseville’s Planning Commission and the Placer County Board of Supervisors when he ran for the California State Assembly in 2006. He said he decided to become a candidate in order to address some of the difficulties of living in California.

'I thought there were a lot of challenges with trying to raise a family and run a small business in California,' said Gaines, who has six children and owns an insurance company in Sacramento. 'I felt like it would be a great opportunity to bring common sense to state government.'

In his next term in office, Gaines said his top priority is budget and government reform. By performing government duties more efficiently, eliminating duplication and consolidating agencies, Gaines said the state can save billions of dollars. Gaines wants to base government growth on population and inflation, which he said could have already given the government $11 billion towards a rainy-day fund. The assemblyman, who generally supports the governor, did not back Schwarzenegger’s proposal this summer to pay state employees minimum wage as a result of the state’s budget crisis.

Gaines has long-term goals for his district, which covers Alpine County and parts of Sacramento, Placer and El Dorado Counties. He wants to work to bring the 2018 Olympic Winter Games to the Reno-Tahoe area. According to Gaines, the Olympics would give a lot of benefits to the region, such as improving affordable housing and transportation and creating an economic boom.

Northstar Community Services District
Originally from the Bay Area, Frank Seelig has lived full-time at Northstar since 1996. He first joined Northstar Community Services’ board of directors in 2007, when he was appointed by the board to take over a retiring director’s term. He decided to run for a second term to ensure that the CSD’s operation of roads, sewer, fire, snow removal and trash keeps going in the same direction.

'I really like Northstar, and I want to make sure things continue as they have been,' Seelig said. 'I don’t want to see it degrade.'

For the next few years, Seelig hopes to keep the district on track to honor its agreements with developers, who foresee 15 more years of mostly residential construction. The district already has many of the wells and water and sewer lines in place to meet the demands of new housing

'I’m just interested in seeing it go according to plan and orderly,' Seelig said.

Now retired, in his past life Seelig was a radio DJ and a banking executive.

North Tahoe Fire Protection District
Teresa O’Dette (Division 1), who owns O’Dette Mortgage Group in Tahoe City and Truckee, entered public office reluctantly. In 2004, she was asked by some of her firefighter clients to run for a seat on the North Tahoe Fire Protection District Board of Directors. She agreed only if no one else filed to run. When the deadline passed without any candidates, O’Dette kept her word. Ironically, the deadline was extended and two other people entered the race. O’Dette won by 17 votes.
She decided to run for a second term because she feels she brings a unique perspective to the board.

'I am fiscally literate – I do money,' said O’Dette, who has been in the mortgage business for 11 years. 'And I am the only one under 50 and the only woman.'

For the next term, O’Dette said the board will be focused on negotiations with the firefighters union and budget issues, especially with increasing costs. The NTFPD is also working on building a new Tahoe City fire station across from the Tahoe City Public Utility District and upgrading or replacing the five other aging stations.

'It has to happen,' O’Dette said of a new Tahoe City fire station. 'They are all in desperate need of replacement, but Tahoe City is the worst.'

Tahoe City Public Utility District
Ron Treabess (Seat 5), who will start his sixth term on the TCPUD Board of Directors in December, may be the longest serving incumbent. A former landscape architect who worked for the National Park Service, Treabess got involved in local government when he was appointed to the TCPUD Parks and Recreation Committee in the early 1980s.

Treabess’ top priority for the district is to focus on generating revenue to repair the aging water and sewer lines, which at around 40 years old are reaching their natural life span. The district needs $26 million over 10 years to repair the water system and $6 million over five years to repair the sewer system.

'How are we going to get that revenue?' Treabess asked. 'We will probably have some increase in water bills.'

On top of that, the district, as mandated by state law, is also switching to meters. Treabess said the board has to come up with a new rate system that differentiates between large and small users but still charges everyone for the capital improvements.

'I don’t want to penalize people for having nice looking places, but I also want people to pay for what they fairly use and encourage conservation,' he said.

Treabess, who has owned The Store in Tahoe City since 1979, is also the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association Director of Community Partnerships and Planning.

Truckee Fire Protection District
Robert Snyder was appointed to the Truckee Fire Protection District Board of Directors in 2005 after a director stepped down. A maintenance supervisor at the Truckee Sanitary District for 31 years, Snyder always had an interest in volunteering with the fire department but was busy raising two children. After his daughters went off to college, he found that he finally had the time to volunteer.

According to Snyder, in the coming year the board will face decisions about annexing around 5,000 acres that are outside the district but which the TFPD still serves. Unlike residents inside the district, these parcels – like the Buckhorn development near Glenshire – currently don’t pay taxes that go to the district.

'Now we go out there as a moral obligation but they don’t pay us,' Snyder said.

The board is also moving forward with the formation of a Community Facilities District, which is a fee for new development to help maintain district response times. The additional money will allow the district to hire more firefighters.

Tahoe Truckee Unified School District
Kristy Olk (Area 3) has served one term on the TTUSD’s Board of Trustees. She was first elected in 2004, when she defeated John Falk. Olk, who has three children, decided to run again to continue the changes the board is trying to implement. Of the five trustees, only she and Monty Folsom have been on the board for one full term.

'It’s a pretty intensive learning curve and it takes a while to get up to speed,' she said. 'I didn’t want to disrupt that.'

With the recent labor agreement reached between the school board and teachers union, Olk hopes that the board can now focus on student achievement. Another task on the board’s plate is to implement professional learning communities, where teachers across the district work together to improve student achievement as measured by standards-based benchmark assessments.

Olk got involved in the school district as a member of the Kings Beach Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization, volunteering with the Measure A campaign and chairing the Measure J campaign. She is currently the North Tahoe Middle School Volunteers in Public Schools’ (VIPS) school board liaison.

Other Non-contested Races:
• Alpine Springs County Water District: Jon Northrop
• Donner Summit Public Utility District: Robert Sherwood and Cathy Preus
• Northstar Community Services District: Jeann Scott Green
• North Tahoe Fire Protection District: Dennis Correa (Division 3)
• North Tahoe Public Utility District: Timothy Ferrel (Seat 2) and John Bergman (Seat 5)
• Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District: Marshall Lewis, Janet Brady, and John Pruyn
• Tahoe Forest Hospital District: Karen Sessler and Marylou Sullivan
• Talmont Resort Improvement District: Joseph Kimmey
• Truckee Fire Protection District: Ron Perea
• Truckee Sanitary District: Brian Kent Smart and Robert W. Affeldt

 
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March 14, 2019