“This is the most important election of our lifetime.”
For the past several months, it has been an all too common refrain.
Of course the statement has everything to do with the top of the ballot, and has less to do with local elections including a contested race to fill a vacancy on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. That’s unfortunate because quality county representation is absolutely critical.
After serving three terms, my colleague Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan is stepping down. This is a decision she made several months ago presumably to give prospective candidates time to consider what it takes to earn the voters’ confidence, and for voters to educate themselves about the office and about those hoping to occupy it.
Now with the 2016 General Election looming, District four voters have a choice between two candidates: Sue Frost and Mike Kozlowski. Come November 8, we’ll learn who joins the other four supervisors (myself included) to help govern a county of 1,000 square miles with nearly a million-and-a-half people.
Unlike other choices on the ballot, however, the supervisor race has garnered relatively little attention and has been eclipsed by Donald Trump’s sideshow, a Democrat-on-Democrat U.S. Senate contest, and even the recreational marijuana debate. As such, many voters don’t possess a good understanding of either candidate, their priorities or even their position on local policy issues.
To put this into perspective, consider these important, yet little known facts about county representation in Sacramento County:
- Each of the five Sacramento County supervisors represents nearly 300,000 people in the district to which they’re directly elected.
- Unincorporated Sacramento County (i.e., areas outside the city limits of the county’s seven cities) has a population of approximately 580,000. By comparison, the county’s largest city, Sacramento has a population of about 486,000 people.
- Sacramento County Supervisors consider each June the largest all-funds budget of any of the regions’ six counties and 22 cities. It is approximately $4 billion, with a General Fund of about $615 million.
- Unlike the region’s cities or rural counties, Sacramento County is responsible for the administration of both significant municipal services and countywide services.
These order of magnitude measures should give voters an idea of the general scale involved with Sacramento County governance, but also the gravity of selecting a new supervisor. Perhaps most critical, however, is consideration of the local policy subject matter about which us supervisors regularly deliberate.
For example, it is your county supervisor and the board as a whole who determine appropriations for services such as public health and communicable disease control, or help set policies to address chronic homelessness, or attempt to balance the needs of law enforcement and childhood early learning.
Whoever next represents Sacramento County’s fourth supervisorial district should be prepared to make some very difficult decisions about these and other similar matters. That responsibility and expectation is a profound one, and it will affect some of the most intimate intersections of local governance, service delivery and residents’ quality of life.
Voters should take the time to learn about the candidates and make an informed decision. It’s too important.
- Phil Serna