By Donna Westfall – May 20, 2018
Election season is clearly upon us. As usual, highway signs and campaign promises are everywhere you look. While it appears at first glance like the same old ball game for constituent voters in Districts 3 and 4, things are substantially different this time. It should not escape any of us that Del Norte County’s economic performance for 2017 was a minus 2.69 percent (CALED Journal), indicating we clearly do not have a meaningful future here unless things decidedly change. A new direction for this Board of Supervisors is absolutely critical. How likely is that to happen? Well, voters have promising choices on the table with new challengers who retired from notably successful careers in public service at the county, regional, and state levels. “Successful” in at least two cases represents several decades of impressive leadership and decision-making performance. If the present incumbents are reelected in Del Norte County’s Districts 3 and 4, we most assuredly can expect more of the same from them, suggesting little or no change for this county. Such would represent disaster for all of us. The contrasts this year between incumbents and challengers couldn’t be more different in terms of historical performance, leadership potential, and trustworthy leadership.
In District 3 (Smith River, Hiouchi and Gasquet) the incumbent is Chris Howard, whose day job is Farm Manager for Alexandre Dairy. His stated background/employment history upon graduation from college was “environmentalist/biologist” counting Spotted Owls and Marbled Murrelets for Rellim Redwood, followed by Green Diamond, the Elk Valley Rancheria, and currently a Dairy Farm Manager. Supervisor Howard is charming, well spoken, and seems to enjoy hobnobbing with the rich and powerful, both locally and abroad. He sometimes can be found hawking milk and dairy products like a carnival huckster at fairs, shows, farmers’ markets, and other public events. He most notably does not attend public meetings of the Gasquet CSD, Big Rock CSD, Smith River CSD, or the Smith River Fire Protection District . . . in other words, the three communities he professes to represent.
The challenger in District 3 is Jake Smith, an educated and polished retiree from various executive levels of CalTrans with 32 years of experience maintaining, building, designing, and improving State roads and highways. He eventually ended up in a senior position in Sacramento. Jake is a determined, yet humble professional who shuns the limelight and prefers to discuss important issues directly with folks face-to-face. Due to his somewhat analytical nature, he prefers to acquire public input, perform his own research, and verify facts before issuing opinions on important subjects. He and his wife, Patti, are down-to-earth likeable people. All of these qualities seem to be in short supply with the current Board of Supervisors.
In District 4 (Washington Park, Old Mill, Pine Grove, Lake Earl and Fort Dick areas) the incumbent is Gerry Hemmingsen, whose day job alternates between managing his declared multi-million-dollar portfolio and the Board of Supervisors. The three challengers competing against Hemmingsen during this election season are David Mason, Ron Phillips, and Pastor Roger Daley.
As for David Mason, he is a retired Code Enforcement Officer with 25 years of municipal and county-level experience. He currently works in a consulting capacity as a Court-appointed Receiver, private consultant, code enforcement instructor, expert witness, and author. David also has provided consulting and training services for the City of Yreka, the City of Mount Shasta, and the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers (CACEO). He recently authored the code enforcement standards and certification training workbook for CACEO, relating in particular to certification of code enforcement officers throughout California.
Prior to retirement in 2016, Mr. Mason was employed as the Code Enforcement Officer for Del Norte County. His office came under the direct supervision of the Community Development Department (CDD) Director. He was responsible for all of Del Norte County’s code enforcement functions, including but not limited to budgeting, grant writing, drafting proposed county ordinances, providing enforcement services for the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority, preparing and presenting reports to the County Board of Supervisors, preparing and presenting reports for Superior Court action, tracking County expenses, filing for cost recovery, and requesting bids and hiring/supervising private contractors to abate public nuisances. He made a lot of headway in three of five Del Norte County districts, but the remaining two districts require greater corrective attention from the Board of Supervisors if they are to improve.
Before that, David Mason was employed by the City of Santa Ana and assigned to the Proactive Rental Enforcement Program (PREP) with the primary duty of inspecting multi-family and high-density apartment buildings for proper maintenance and code compliance. As a PREP inspector he became responsible for monitoring thousands of rental units for regulatory conformity. Other assignments and duties involved enforcing codes in commercial zones, parking control, abandoned vehicle abatement, enforcement of City health codes relating to mobile food vending and pushcarts, and issuing misdemeanor citations for violations of City codes.
On two separate occasions, CACEO selected Mr. Mason as California’s Outstanding Code Enforcement Officer of the Year. He investigated thousands of public nuisance cases throughout his impressive career that resulted in felony arrests/convictions for improper hazardous waste disposal, illegal dumping, controlled substance violations (drugs), prostitution/human trafficking, probation/parole violations, spousal/child abuse, vehicle theft, grand theft, copyright infringement, and murder. Striving to become a recognized leader in this important career field pretty much defined him over time. His accumulated experience to date would prove useful to the Board of Supervisors if and when it decides to place increased emphasis on cleaning up this county.