If you can believe it, at their Jan. 5 meeting, three members of the board of supervisors independently concluded that the historic practice of having the vice chairman succeed the chairman should not apply this year. In spite of an agreement among supervisors made last year that Supervisor Chris Wright would succeed Supervisor Cliff Edson as chairman, Edson was re-elected on a 3-2 vote. Wright and Supervisor Debbie Ponte were the dissenting votes. Wright was unanimously re-elected as vice-chairman.

As county counsel told the board, there is “nothing in writing” that requires the vice-chairman be elected as chair the following year, but it has been a long-standing tradition. The only exception I know of was in 2014, when former board Vice-chairman Darren Spellman was denied the chairmanship. However, the board at that time did not elect former Supervisor Merita Callaway as chairwoman for another year. Supervisor Ponte was elected instead. In addition, Wright has not generated the controversy that dogged Spellman, who faced two unsuccessful recall efforts during his tenure on the board.

Ironically, it was Wright, along with Ponte and Edson, who previously went against the traditional rotation when they passed over Spellman. Another irony is that Edson is facing a re-election campaign. This is ironic because one of the reasons he gave for not supporting Spellman as chairman was that Spellman was running for re-election and would be “under a lot of pressure for his campaign.” Apparently, Edson’s re-election campaign will be a cakewalk.

The primary reason for retaining Edson given by Supervisors Michael Oliveira and Steve Kearney, who both supported Edson’s re-election as chairman, was a need for continuity of leadership in the wake of the Butte Fire. They asserted that Edson had done more than anyone else on the board to address the Butte Fire and its aftermath. Edson agreed and even questioned Wright’s dedication and commitment to his constituents even though Wright’s district was hardest hit by the fire. Edson declared, “I was here through the whole fire, the whole thing, so, no, we weren’t all here, so I have some issues around that.” He later said, “I seen (sic) who stepped up to the plate,” the implication being it wasn’t Chris Wright.

Oliveira and Kearney both assured Wright that the decision to retain Edson as chair was no reflection of his abilities. When Oliveira asked Wright if he understood, Wright

said, “No.”

I don’t understand either. How could the decision not be a reflection of their estimation of Wright’s ability to do the job? Supervisor Ponte advocated for Wright, and the majority of public comment supported Wright to no avail.

Edson’s re-election clearly raises the question of how many consecutive years a supervisor may serve as chairman without upsetting the traditional balance of power among districts. As Gustav Mahler said, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”

As the meeting wore on, Edson revealed what is likely the real reason he didn’t want Wright as chair. Edson began by saying, “I don’t want to talk bad about Chris,” and then proceeded to do so by referencing Wright’s admonition to developers Castle & Cooke to take their “millions” and leave the county, which Wright said at a general plan study session in July. Edson continued, “You go to a meeting, a public meeting, a board meeting, and you stand up and you say take your money and take your business and go somewhere else. Is that something we should do as a board chair? Really?” It appears Wright was denied the chair because he opposes widespread residential growth and development.

Edson didn’t stop at taking the chairmanship of the board for another year. Again with support from Oliveira and Kearney, Edson also took Ponte’s place on the Calaveras Council of Governments even though he previously quit the position. When it was clear the vote would be 3-2 to oust Ponte and install Edson on the council of governments, Wright uttered a profanity and left the room. While I can’t condone Wright’s lack of decorum, I can sympathize with his frustration. The board of supervisors looked like a gang of three with Edson as their leader.

Oliveira and Kearney were deferential to Edson in the extreme. Kearney in particular seems unable to make a simple declarative statement without a multitude of meaningless qualifiers. He even admitted at one point that he sounded “wishy, washy.” I agree wholeheartedly, though Oliveira wasn’t much better.

It appears at the moment that Edson has a lock on the board of supervisors and he isn’t inclined to relinquish his position. As Edson said, “So, once again, it comes down to me making those tough decisions.”

Yeah, and no one else matters.

Muriel Zeller is a poet, writer and Valley Springs resident. She is a member of the Calaveras Planning Coalition and former member of the board of directors for MyValleySprings.com. Contact her at murielzeller52@gmail.com.


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