Political forum season kicks off in Nevada County | TheUnion.com

Political forum season kicks off in Nevada County

The questioner wanted to know how to stop someone from carrying a concealed weapon onto a Nevada County school.

It was the first question of Wednesday's candidate forum, which featured the three candidates for sheriff: John Foster, Shannan Moon and Bill Smethers.

"How can we stop that?" the questioner asked.

Foster, a former Grass Valley police chief, tackled the question before it was asked. In his opening remarks to the Business & Professional Women of Nevada County, Foster said the schools and Sheriff's Office must work together. If elected, he'd use best practices to craft school safety plans, and have deputies in schools when they practice those plans.

As for obtaining a concealed carry weapon permit, Foster said people must go through a background check that includes taking fingerprints.

Moon, a captain with the Sheriff's Office, said for the last seven months she's had the responsibility of examining concealed carry permits. She added that most Nevada County schools forbid weapons on them, which is their right. The permit allows a gun owner to carry in public only.

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Smethers, a lieutenant with the Sheriff's Office, said he's seen very few people over his 21 years with local enforcement have their concealed permit taken from them.

"We do vet the people very well," Smethers said.

Forum

The event, held at Summer Thyme's Bakery & Deli in Grass Valley, was the first local candidate forum of this political season. In addition to the sheriff's candidates, it also featured Hilary Hodge and Supervisor Dan Miller, running for Nevada County Board of Supervisors District 3; and Sue Hoek, running unopposed for the District 4 seat on the board.

Candidates handled questions about housing, jobs, broadband and homelessness — the last of which bridged both supervisor and sheriff's races.

Fielding a question about the Stepping Up Initiative, used to reduce the number of mentally ill people in jail, Foster said he's supportive of the process. He wants people who need the initiative to gain access to it instead of being released to the streets.

"Right now, we're not doing enough," he said.

Moon said her duties took her to Sacramento for training about Stepping Up. The initiative requires awareness, she said, because authorities don't want to jail someone who's mentally ill, unless a crime has occurred. If they are jailed, they should receive the proper services.

"It is amazing — when you see something clicks with someone," she said.

Smethers said he's involved in the development of a system to track people and the mental health issues they face. Many people experience what he called a "revolving door" — they're arrested, meet with mental health professionals and then are released because they fail to meet certain criteria for help.

Supervisors

Candidates in the supervisor races also addressed issues of homelessness, housing and the reason young people leave the area.

Hodge said the county needs a job structure that attracts people here, but it also must have the housing for them. She pointed to a workforce training program at Bitney College Preparatory High School, an initiative she said can help keep younger residents from leaving.

Miller said more trade workers are needed in the county, saying not everyone needs a four-year degree. More trade workers would lead to less migration from the area.

Hoek agreed with Miller's take on more trade-based workers, but mentioned — not for the only time — the need for a broadband internet connection.

"We're right back to that thing: internet, broadband," she said.

Answering a question about securing state and federal assistance to address homelessness and mental health issues, Hodge said available housing is essential. She also said the county must treat housing as a humanitarian issue.

Miller said supervisors have prioritized homelessness and want to open a homeless day center, followed by a 24/7 center. However, he said the county must find a way to fund it.

Addressing getting the federal government to help, Hoek said locals have no control over it.

"How do we change that at a state level?" she asked. "We walk the halls. We can do it different in our community."

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.