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Mono County goes to Washington; Supes give tepid support for junket

February 14, 2014

A speaker at a recent convention of the National Association of Counties. Photo/NACO

BRIDGEPORT—Mono County will send two representatives to Washington, D.C., for a five-day legislative conference in March, but the Board of Supervisors is less than enthusiastic about the trip.

 

The board voted, 3-2, to authorize the trip—at about $2,500 total—but it was not a slam-dunk. 

 

Noting that the supervisors’ chambers were packed with employees and department heads waiting to hear the board plow through a grim, mid-year budget review, Supervisor Larry Johnston came down hard with a “nyet” for the trip (see P. 1).

 

“I don’t think it’s very good timing,” he said of the trip, which will send County Administrator Jim Leddy and Supervisor Tim Fesko to the National Association of Counties Annual Legislative Conference March 1-5.“Here we are, sitting in front of all our departments’ employees,” Johnston said, “and we’ve asked them to cut back. Yet we’re flying off to Washington … for over $2,000.

 

“Over the last three years, our representative [then-Supervisor Vikki Bauer] walked into these meetings and came back with very little in return.”

 

Supervisor Byng Hunt also expressed deep skepticism about the March 1-5 conference.

 

“You’re lucky if you can spend 10 minutes with them [key federal legislators and staffers], and usually you talk with them about other things than the issues. 

 

“It’s just not effective in my estimation. I’ve been there—twice‚ in fact—and it was a very frustrating experience.”

 

Supervisor Fred Stump also expressed doubt on the effectiveness of the trip, but said he was willing to take a chance this time.

 

“I’m willing to do it, but I’m also cognizant that the public’s not very appreciative of the whole junket idea,” he said. “I’m going to take you at your word that this is essential and important.

 

“I’m supportive of it at this time, but I just have this image of too many people spending too much time in revelry. If I have a concern, it’s just a vague concern in that direction, but I’m supportive of this.”

 

Supervisor Tim Alpers, who for years has supported face-to-face networking in business and government, gave the most strident defense of the trip, saying such conferences are “absolutely essential” in getting Mono County’s issues in front of the federal government.

 

Fesko, too, ardently supported the idea of the trip.

 

“I have three years left on this board,” he said, “and I want to make sure Mono County is a player, and it’s not just on the state level, but also on the federal level. 

 

“Networking is huge, and I agree with Supervisor Alpers that it’s important to be able to pick up a phone and call someone and have that person say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember you, I spoke to you.’  

 

“That plays huge. We’re keeping the days to a minimum, we’ll have a [tight] schedule and there will be several hundred dollars out of my own pocket that I will have to spend. This budget [for the trip] doesn’t even allow for food, or transportation to and from the airport to the hotel.”

 

Leddy, a former CAO in Sonoma County, also advised the supervisors to support the trip.

 

“We have to be strategic in our investments in our relationships,” he said, noting that Sonoma County was successful in pushing through key legislative initiatives at the federal level.

 

“We’ll go through 20 meetings in two days and we’ll meet with lead staff in key interior departments—the members who represent us.”

 

In a separate memo to the board, Leddy reminded the members that the county’s government is dependent on federal funding, and beyond that, it has specific issues.

 

“The issues facing Mono County include federal endangered species listings, access to national parks and forest service lands, health and human services funding and funding for local roads.

 

“The ability to bring Mono County’s issues directly to the elected officials and agencies in Washington protects current federal resources, and creates future opportunities for enhancing federal revenues and influencing federal decisions.”

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