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Times endorsements: The non-races for supervisor

Two are running unopposed, and one faces only token opposition. So The Times will not go through the motions of endorsing this year.

May 13, 2012
  • From left are L.A. County supervisors Don Knabe, Michael D. Antonovich and Mark Ridley-Thomas.
From left are L.A. County supervisors Don Knabe, Michael D. Antonovich… (Los Angeles Times )

There is something very wrong with the relationship between the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the voters who elect them. The supervisors oversee a county that is more populous than 42 states. But few county residents know what the supervisors do or how well they do it. The board members bear some blame for the problem; they are so expert in using the power of incumbency to raise campaign money that few challengers dare file to run against them, so there is rarely much public debate about the county's problems or the supervisors' fitness.

And let's be frank: Much of the problem is not the supervisors' fault. Their districts are so large and the county government's task so vast that there is a breakdown in the kind of oversight that voters in smaller counties exercise over their elected officials. The county's size and the lack of checks and balances lead to insufficient voter attention, which leads in turn to behavior of the type that currently is being probed in the assessor's office and the Sheriff's Department, as well as in departments the supervisors oversee, including the Department of Children and Family Services and the Probation Department. The board is so unused to scrutiny that it often makes its public proceedings private when it can get away with it.

This year two incumbents, Mark Ridley-Thomasand Don Knabe, are running unopposed. Michael D. Antonovich has only token opposition. There is no doubt that on June 5, each will be elected to another four-year term.

The Times' editorial board has in past years gone through the motions of interviewing and assessing each challenger, whether they be revolutionary Marxists, disgruntled sheriff's deputies or average citizens who want to participate in the democratic process. Then we endorse the incumbents, no matter how unsatisfactory their performance, because we're simply not going to back a revolutionary Marxist or an inexperienced and somewhat clueless candidate for such an important position. The point is not that the challengers have no chance of winning, although that's true too; it's that, all factors considered, we don't want them to win because they would not make good supervisors.

The Times will not go through the motions of endorsing the county supervisors for reelection this year. We'll give them this: They do a good job of providing municipal services, such as parks and libraries, and in overseeing cultural institutions, such as museums and concert venues. And they have avoided the kinds of serious budget trouble that plague the city and the state. Ridley-Thomas, the newest kid on the block, has brought a fresh spirit and delivered new services to a district that for too long suffered official neglect.

In the areas where the supervisors need most improvement — those services they are mandated to deliver to the county's abused and neglected children, juvenile probationers, the poor, the addicted and the mentally ill — the challenge is so large that anyone would be hard put to make progress. Still, county residents must keep the heat on, because the supervisors are charged with making life more livable for the least of us, as well as for the already comfortable.

The Board of Supervisors is very soon to undergo a sweeping change of a kind not seen in its modern history. After their reelection next month, Knabe and Antonovich will be staring down the political grim reaper — term limits, passed in 2002 and finally going into effect — the same way that Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina are now. What happens then? With the incumbents no longer needing to raise money, there may be a rare opportunity to restructure county government to ensure that the people adequately oversee what in some ways may be the most important — and most unaccountable — government in California.

JUNE 5 PRIMARY: Find all recommendations by The Times' editorial board

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