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Vacancies bring in new, sometimes unexpected blood to county Boards

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Following state and federal elections, counties Board members often find themselves in the market for new colleagues

John Jackson had sold his ranch and was eyeing the motor home he had purchased without telling his wife. She was off in Oregon visiting her mother when Jackson got the news that one of Beaverhead County, Mont.’s three commissioners had died.

He decided to do something else before telling his wife.

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San Bernardino Candidate Questions

“I threw my hat in the ring,” he said. “I called her up — she’s 900 miles away — and she said ‘I thought we’d retired!’”

Jackson told her he probably wouldn’t be appointed — there were nine other applicants — but a few weeks later, he was proven wrong. He did two interviews with a panel of county elected officials and staff, but even as the field narrowed to three people, he didn’t think he’d be chosen.

“Then 10 minutes after my last interview, I was sworn in,” he said.

Mid-term appointments make up a small fraction of county boards, but they ensure residents don’t go unrepresented for long when a vacancy opens. In cases where a majority of the term remains, counties will request a special election such as in Roanoke County, Va., which will be holding state elections a year after Supervisor Joe McNamara was elected to the Legislature. In the meantime, the Board of Supervisors picked former planning commission member David Radford from among 12 applicants to fill the remainder of McNamara’s term.

In Salt Lake County, Mayor Ben McAdams (D) still has two years left in his mayoral term as he starts his term as the U.S. representative for Utah’s Fourth District in January.

Democratic party leaders in Salt Lake County will decide who will fill his term, kicking off with a notice from the Salt Lake County Council that they’ve accepted McAdams’ resignation. That starts a 30-day timer for the county party to return a name to the council. The party gives candidates 10 days to submit their names and about two weeks to campaign and lobby the leaders of the party. The race is open to all county residents.

The Salt Lake County Council has already filled one seat when their colleague, Sam Granato, died. They chose his wife, Ann, to succeed him.

In Nevada, three counties ended up being involved in nominating the successor for a seat in the Legislature. After candidate Dennis Hof won a seat despite dying a month before, the Boards of Commissioners for Nye, Clark and Lincoln counties voted from among 19 applicants for the seat, which spans the three counties.

With Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle running for mayor of Chicago, the Board updated its rules to allow them to choose her successor from among themselves, rather than to automatically elevate the Board’s president pro tempore for the rest of her term, the Chicago SunTimes reported.

Forty-eight candidates are vying to fill San Bernardino County, Calif. Supervisor James Ramos’ seat following his election to the California Assembly. Ramos’ four remaining colleagues will evaluate the answers to prompts from those candidates, selecting their top 10, and then interviewing the candidates who appeared on at least two top-10 lists.

Meanwhile, in the nearly two years since Jackson’s appointment to the Beaverhead County Board, he has immersed himself in the operations of county government

“It was a huge learning curve,” he said. “It took me about a year to figure out how the local governments work. I don’t think of it as a political job, I think of it as a management job. “I want to be a problem solver.”

The end of his first year coincided with a trip to Washington, D.C. for the 2018 NACo Legislative Conference, a trip he made at the suggestion of colleague Mike McGinley.

Nine months later, he sailed to reelection with no opposition.

“To run unopposed like that was a big confidence booster,” he said. “It means I must be doing a good job, learning on the fly like this.”


San Bernardino Candidate Questions

  1. Identify the most important priorities facing the county
  2. Describe unique policy experiences related to county responsibilities, projects, programs, departments
  3. Supply a brief summary of your knowledge and understanding of budget and finance
  4. Offer feedback on the current Countywide Vision and how it relates to issues and projects in the third district
  5. Share your relationships through the community, district, county and state that can work to the county’s advantage
  6. Describe plans to address concerns of the district
  7. Elaborate on how you think the Endangered Species Act requirements affect development projects in the district and evaluate the quality of the county’s Habitat Conservation Plan efforts
  8. Describe your familiarity with issues regarding utility scale solar development and your vision for renewable development within the district
  9. Share whether you believe the San Bernardino International Airport is poised to play a strong economic role in the region
  10. Describe your thoughts on the City of San Bernardino’s recent bankruptcy and the importance of rebuilding its economic base, and
  11. Elaborate on any sources of income or gifts that you believe, at this time, would require you to recuse yourself from issues, agenda items or lawsuits currently in this Board’s purview.

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