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Boards lack political hopefuls

Dave Moller
Senior Staff Writer

In an election year that includes what may be the most exciting presidential race since 1968, western Nevada County politicos might be asking themselves where all the local candidates are.

Some think smaller boards don’t attract candidates because they don’t pay much – or anything – for a lot of work and public political grief.

Others think the small number of candidates means people think board members are efficient and don’t need to be replaced, or that potential candidates don’t want to pinch tight district budgets by forcing the costs of an election.

“I expect the money has something to do with the motivation. Low compensation is a possible reason” said County Clerk-Recorder and elections chief Gregory Diaz. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some people would say, ‘I’ve had it with the process,’ or on the flip side, it may make them want to run.”

In 28 governmental entities with potential races, seven school and special districts failed to attract enough candidates to fill out their boards, while 14 others attracted the same number of candidates as open seats, according to Nevada County Assistant County Clerk Susan German.

That leaves seven contested races.

In uncontested races, the candidates that filed will win by default, and those races will not appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Uncontested contests

The Grass Valley City Council race has landed six candidates for three spots, and five candidates have jammed the Nevada Irrigation District race for a position from the Penn Valley area, but those contests are the exception.

In other instances, such as NID’s trustee race for the Higgins Corner area, the Nevada County Board of Education race in Trustee Area 2 and the Sierra College Board race in Trustee Area 7, two are vying for a single open spot.

At the Ophir Hill Fire Protection District and the Peardale-Chicago Park Fire Protection District, four candidates are vying for three openings.

In Chicago Park, Fire Chief Jim Bierwagen said a recently failed tax increase measure on the district’s ballots may have forced the race there.

“Generally speaking, when there’s no controversy or unless you’re trying to raise taxes, there’s not much interest,” Bierwagen said. “When people need fire service, they pick up their phone and call.

“They don’t realize it’s a special district with a board of directors who meet once a month,” Bierwagen said. “I’ve been fire chief 25 years, and I can count on my two hands how many public members we’ve had at our meetings.”

“I think the conventional wisdom is that people are so busy these days they don’t volunteer for these things anymore,” said Ed Beckenbach, one of three uncontested candidates who will return to the North San Juan Fire District Board.

“We don’t get paid, and most special district boards don’t,” Beckenbach said. “We’re just fortunate we have enough people to get the work done, but if the constituents didn’t like us, someone would have stepped up and filed.”

For uncontested Union Hill School District incumbent Dorothy Goodnow, “There’s no salary or stipend whatsoever, or health insurance. It doesn’t cost me to be on the board, but there is the time issue, and I think that holds some people back.”

Clear Creek Elementary School District Superintendent-Principal Scott Lay has been in the county 18 years, and he can recall one contested election at his district. Candidates work their way up through school committees and are well known and received by the time they run for the board, Lay said, warding off competition.

“Another reason could be the cost of an election the school district gets billed for, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars,” Lay said. “People know school budgets are tight, and they don’t want to create the cost. Others are just happy with the job the board is doing.”

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

Some western Nevada County schools and special districts did not attract enough candidates to fill out the full boards or justify spots on the Nov. 4 ballot. Here are the seats up for grabs:

– Chicago Park School District, one candidate for two open positions

– Twin Ridges Elementary School District, two candidates for three openings

– Bear River Recreation and Park District, no candidates for two open spots

– San Juan Ridge County Water District, no candidates for three positions

– Beyers Lane Community Service District, one candidate for two openings

– Lake of the Pines Ranchos Community Service District, no candidates for two openings

– Mystic Mine Road Community Service District, two candidates for three open spots

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