by Jim Hight
Photos by Brandi Easter
ROGER RODONI COULDN'T ASK for a better time to run for county supervisor. For the second year in a row, a huge "September Surprise" error in the county budget was revealed less than a month before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
County workers threatened to strike, criticisms of the chief administrative officer have mounted and letters to the editors of North Coast newspapers complain that county government is worse than ever.
One-term incumbent Roy Heider has little trouble answering the complaints and explaining the background to issues that he and the other four supervisors deal with. But the 2nd District voters who hear and consider his responses may well be outnumbered by those who have a gut feeling that county government needs new leadership.
Heider, a retired service station and grocery store owner, defends his record. "I honestly feel that I've served the 2nd District well. If the electorate feels the same way, you'll return me to office," he said recently.
His challenger, Rodoni, is a cattle rancher, College of the Redwoods teacher and an official in agriculture groups and government agencies. He has few political differences with Heider. But he criticizes the incumbent for being inaccessible to voters and lacking energy in representing the district.
Rodoni ran against Heider in 1992, losing by just 166 votes. In the March primary, Rodoni outpolled Heider 2,951 to 2,730, with Timothy Carter receiving 1,591 votes.
To assist 2nd District voters in making their selection for the Nov. 5 ballot, the Journal presents highlights of a candidates' forum held Sept. 5 at the Mateel Community Center in Redway.
HEIDER: I'm proud of my accomplishments. I represent Humboldt County on seven subcommittees, and I've never missed one meeting in four years. I've only missed one board meeting in four years.
RODONI: I was born and raised here and I'm quite familiar with most of the political, economic and social aspects of what Humboldt County is all about, especially the 2nd District.
I believe quite strongly in my abilities to provide a much-needed voice for this district. The situation in Humboldt County today ... is grave at best. My priorities are public safety, roads and the budget.
RODONI: I had a rather lengthy meeting with some department heads at the courthouse, where we talked over budget issues.... I'm somewhat mystified even at this point, as many people are, as to why we are in such a boondoggle.
The last explanation I heard given from a prominent source was that there are two systems of bookkeeping involved. I'm not in a position to put anyone on the spot as an outsider, but I have a lot of questions, such as why can't the two systems of bookkeeping be reconciled so we know where all the dollars are and where they go?
HEIDER: Last year there was a $ 1.6 million error. That was a computer error that was corrected. This year there is a revenue shortfall that was based on lack of revenues and overestimated revenues. The discrepancy between the $4.6 million and the $7 million-plus that the auditor/controller came out with initially was a difference in accounting methods.
In 1994 the state controller and all the counties went on the accrual system and that's what the CAO (chief administrative officer) is doing, while the auditor/controller was on the cash basis. They resolved their differences, today they agree, and as we speak we've found revenues in different departments and as of right now we're only $1.4 million short. It's still a large amount that's going to have to be cut from programs.
HEIDER: There's an awful lot of money spent on it through the Private Industry Council. For every person they train and relocate to the job market it costs the taxpayers $7,000. I'm not totally sure if the taxpayers want to expand that program.
RODONI: With my connection at College of the Redwoods there seems to be a growing desire of students to educate themselves and not much of a facility here in Southern Humboldt.
RODONI: You cannot preempt state law in this regard. What loopholes (in state forest practice regulations) are left I'm not familiar with, but in a representative democracy it's what the people want that will determine what happens.
HEIDER: On the Headwaters issue, the board passed a resolution and sent it to the Department of the Interior stating that whatever happens in the Headwaters, we want to protect jobs. Surprisingly, they responded to that resolution in two days. It was fairly vague but they did say there would be no loss of jobs. I hope they can deliver that promise.
The labor in an old-growth mill is far more intensive. I had the pleasure of touring Simpson's second-growth sawmill a few weeks ago. My comment as I went through the mill was, "Where are the people?" When you go through Pacific Lumber's old growth mill, you see all kinds of people. There's definitely a jobs concern if PL is forced to go into second-growth manufacturing.
RODONI: There would also be a timber tax loss to the county.
HEIDER: I think if we can protect the Headwaters, that would seem to be the issue. I feel that the other lumber companies should be able to manage the rest of their lands to the best of their ability. If that means cutting old-growth lands, I support that.
HEIDER: In retrospect, maybe (it was a mistake to build it). But when I first got on the board, the jail Phase 1 was already in the loop. I voted on jail Phase 2, but we'd had so much pressure from throughout the county about locking up criminals. That's why I supported it, but I'm not even sure we're going to have enough money to open the second phase.
RODONI: Apparently there are some discrepancies about a contract that called for certain services by a contractor. When the contractor came back with another bill, the county voted it through with one supervisor objecting.
I'm really curious myself ... was the jail that we got really necessary? I realize that the state mandates that certain specifications have to be met, but we don't have to build a monument to a particular board of supervisors.
HEIDER: We owed that firm the money. Had we voted the other way, I know as well as I'm sitting in this chair we would have been hit with another lawsuit and it would have cost the taxpayers a lot more money.
HEIDER: I'm as frustrated with the lack of law enforcement down here as the rest of you. I invited the sheriff to a meeting with six or seven business people. The business community asked for only two things and he promised both -- to walk the streets once a day, and to pick up some of the people that are classed as undesirables who hang out in front of the businesses and throw them into jail for a couple hours. He's never done them. I can't force him to do things. He's an elected official just like I am.
RODONI: I have talked with Sheriff Lewis and I'd continue to do so.
DOMESTIC PARTNER REGISTRATION AND GAY RIGHTS
HEIDER: I don't know what the Human Rights Commission is going to say (about the county recognizing same-sex "domestic partners") and what the financial impacts of it will be. I don't know how I'm going to vote on it. If there's no fiscal impact, I'll probably vote for it.
As far as a gay-lesbian proclamation, I don't have a problem with gay or lesbian people, but as far as a special day of recognition, I have a problem with that.
RODONI: My vote would depend on the findings of this committee. As far as my opinions on gay and lesbian activities, I recognize it, I don't glorify it. I can't comment on past proclamations.
RODONI: Public transportation in Southern Humboldt has always been a little sketchy. My only concern (with the elimination of county bus service) is whether other alternatives were explored to the nth degree.
HEIDER: The county tried to provide the service down here. No one wanted it to work any more than I did. It was an 18-month pilot program. It came back before the board two different times, and through my lobbying my colleagues, I got two extensions. ... It reached the point where I could not support it anymore.
RODONI: Watersheds are considered sensitive right now without any further activities. We've got enough laws, in other words.
HEIDER: I own property in Mattole watershed and I did sign a petition against declaring it a sensitive area. I think it's well protected now.