Unseating an experienced and competent public official is not a step voters should take lightly.
Change for its own sake carries many risks, including the loss of valuable experience and perspective. And the temptation to “Throw the bums out” in anti-incumbent seasons is usually driven more by emotion than logic.
On that basis we at the Register Editorial Board tend to give greater weight to the incumbent when it comes to endorsements. The burden is on the challenger to show why it is time for a change.
This year is no exception.
We met this week with both Supervisor Diane Dillon and challenger Cio Perez to hear their arguments as to why they deserve the support of voters.
There is no reason to believe that Perez would not be a good supervisor. He makes a reasonable point that none of the five current supervisors has direct experience in agriculture. He brings the perspective of a working farmer, with multi-generational roots on the land and years of experience on the board of the Farm Bureau at both the local and state levels. He understands land use in the Ag Preserve and speaks credibly about how political actions affect the county’s signature industry.
But land use and agriculture is only a narrow slice of what the county government actually does. Far larger and broader is the vast array of social and law enforcement services that the supervisors must manage – from items as simple as providing flu shots to the most complex mental health cases crowding our aging and unsafe jail. Napa County government is a vast and expensive bureaucracy that provides most of the social safety net that keeps our community safe and healthy.
Here, Perez displayed only a very general knowledge of the issues. We have no reason to disbelieve him when he assured us he is a “quick learner” who would work hard to dig into complicated and unfamiliar issues. But we are concerned about placing a political newcomer on the board, particularly considering that three of the five current supervisors have four years or less experience on the board.
Dillon for her part displayed an unmistakable enthusiasm for a fifth term, possibly even more enthusiastic than the last time she ran, in 2014. She was able to articulate what she has done on the board, including upholding a tradition of prudent financial management at the county level, and making logical, data-driven decisions, such as contracting ambulance services to AMR. That 2011 decision was highly controversial since the former operator was beloved in the community, but the numbers spoke for themselves when comparing proposed contracts, she said, and the results since have vindicated the choice.
Dillon displayed a detailed knowledge and passion for the diverse communities that make up her huge district, which includes the vast majority of the unincorporated territory of Napa County and includes the communities of Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, Angwin, Deer Park, Pope Valley and Lake Berryessa. Over her time on the board, and previously as a land-used activist and attorney, she has forged deep connections in all these places and she can speak fluently about their specific concerns and issues.
And unlike some long-time incumbents, who seem simply to expect reelection as a matter of course, Dillon was able articulate a plan for the future, listing things she has yet to complete and would like to achieve. High on that list was emergency planning to meet the next natural disaster and also replacing the expensive and decrepit downtown jail, which has been a longtime drain on the county’s time and resources.
Although she is officially neutral on Measure C, the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, she said she understands the frustration and anger motivating its supporters. She pledged, if reelected, to push for a deeper study by the supervisors of development issues in the hills and watersheds. She also expressed frustration at the failure of the 2015 Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee and she said she wants to create a more productive working group to discuss land use and development in the Ag Preserve, similar to the successful Groundwater Resources Advisory Committee, which produced a package of reasonable proposals for the supervisors to consider in 2014.
In addition to these local challenges, the county government is facing some longer term issues, including vast and unpredictable changes in state and federal funding and regulations. Experience and deep knowledge will be very helpful in meeting those changes, Dillon said.
Although Perez is a credible candidate for supervisor, we believe that Diane Dillon has been an able and successful representative for the sprawling Third District. She remains enthusiastic and forward looking and we see no reason why voters would need to replace her, losing her decades of experience as a politician and activist.
For these reasons, we endorse Diane Dillon for a fifth term on the board and we urge our readers in her district to cast their vote for her.