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Ventura County Perspective

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March 12, 2000

With hard-fought primaries past and eight months until the final event in November, it's time for Ventura County's elected leaders to return their full attention to the tasks at hand. For the Board of Supervisors, that means:

* Working with interim Chief Administrative Officer Harry Hufford to finalize a balanced and workable budget.

* Recruiting a top-notch successor to continue the hard work of tightening up the county's financial affairs and management habits after Hufford's emergency hitch ends on June 30.

These challenges demand five board members fully committed to working together and willing to leave personal agendas and political feuds outside the door.

It won't be easy.

Now that John K. Flynn has won his bid to remain on the board and Judy Mikels has lost hers to move up to a state Senate seat, both of them can concentrate on the business of county policymaking.

Susan Lacey, cruising toward retirement, has time to help build a county government in which sound spending practices, realistic budgets and a clear chain of command make it possible for staff to carry out the board's policy decisions efficiently and effectively. That would be a more fitting legacy for this longtime elected official to leave than bitter memories of the mental health merger that indirectly touched off a series of investigations, audits and expensive penalties.

The greatest burden is on Board Chair Kathy Long, who faces a runoff election against Michael Morgan in November. She must use the next eight months to demonstrate the sort of leadership and vision that will make voters eager to give her another term. And she must also find the grace to work closely with Frank Schillo, who took the highly unusual step of endorsing Long's challenger in the primary. Schillo says he is backing fellow Republican Morgan because he would add a conservative vote needed to stabilize the county's finances but there's an element of political payback at work as well.

The spat underscores former county CAO David L. Baker's comments late last year that the Board of Supervisors is so divided it cannot work well together. Baker quit in November after only four days on the job, leaving behind a long list of concerns about the county's financial health and organizational dysfunction. He said back-room politics--sometimes orchestrated by supervisors--would make it impossible to solve problems.

Since then, board members have tried hard to get along publicly, often voting unanimously on financial and other issues. With the turbulence and distractions of the campaign season at least temporarily in a lull, it's time to renew that pledge to work together and address the very real problems that Baker brought to light.

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