Sunday, May 11, 2008

County supervisor candidates debate in televised forums

It didn't take long for the District 3 Contra Costa County supervisor's televised candidate round-table to get muddy.

State Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-San Ramon, running against his former staff member Mary Nejedly Piepho, opened the debate attacking the incumbent for voting herself a 60 percent pay raise and then slammed her on "voting to violate the county's urban limit line."

Piepho later accused Houston of attempting to "slash and burn" the relationship between management and county employee unions.

So much for a friendly exchange between former colleagues.

The 30-minute forum was filmed April 23 in Martinez and is scheduled to air on Comcast and CCTV public access channels up until the June 3 election. Moderated by Times political columnist Lisa Vorderbrueggen, the debate is also available on the Times Web site, at

Much of the District 3 debate covered the county's dire financial situation, including the $51.7 million in cuts approved Tuesday.

Piepho called the cuts "Solomon-like decisions," blaming substantial declines in property tax revenue and state budget cuts.

"We then must become very diligent and focusing our responsibilities and priorities on the top level of services to our communities," Piepho said, stressing the need to save health services and public safety.

Houston, a Republican, spoke out against Gov. Arnold AdvertisementSchwarzenegger's across-the-board budget cuts proposal, calling it the "wrong solution."

"We need to make priorities," he said of a county strategy, recommending no public safety cuts and a health system audit.

Houston said the county's attempt to tackle 40 percent of the unfunded liability for retiree health benefits wasn't enough, saying it should strive for a "80 to 90 percent level." He said the county's attempt to curtail unrepresented workers' health care benefits should have started with unionized employees.

"I wish they had the same guts when they negotiated the last six months with the represented workers," he said.

"For all their efforts, we're going to get another union. ... Isn't that great?" he said sarcastically, referring to unrepresented workers' vows to form a union in the wake of the board's decision to cut benefits for nonunion employees.

Piepho said "untangling" union contracts would be a "long and arduous process" and that trimming management health care benefits was an appropriate start.

"Management first. We should be leaders and we stated that we would be standing at the forefront," Piepho said.

As for the 40 percent target for retiree health benefits, Piepho said it's an unprecedented start and continued restructuring of the benefit plans would further bridge the gap.

The two candidates even touched on their previous professional relationship and the fact Houston encouraged Piepho to run for his Assembly seat rather than seek a second term as a county supervisor.

"When he called and asked if I would run for his Assembly seat I said no. Contra Costa is my home. We're working very hard here. We're making a great recovery, but we're not finished yet," she said.

Houston, who had also encouraged Piepho to run for supervisor four years ago, says she's no longer right for the job.

"She was good enough before, but frankly she's not good enough now," he said.

District 3 includes the San Ramon Valley, the southern and far eastern communities in Contra Costa County and portions of Walnut Creek.

  • Local organizations, agencies rally against budget cuts
  • College trustee takes siblings to court
  • Crime top issue in North Oakland council contest