Kern Board of Supervisors term-limit ballot petition concludes signature drive

·4 min read

Mar. 18—Organizers of a signature campaign that seeks to institute term limits for the Kern County Board of Supervisors dropped off petitions at the local Elections Division on Thursday.

Collecting thousands more signatures than necessary to qualify for the ballot, voters are more than likely going to get the opportunity to decide whether supervisors should be limited to two terms of four years each in an upcoming election.

The drop-off caps a six-month signature drive that had the backing of several powerful community organizations and unions, including the Dolores Huerta Foundation, Service Employees International Union Local 521 and the United Domestic Workers AFSCME Local 3930.

Driven by an array of grievances that include low pay and poor local services, organizers — who call themselves the We Are Kern County initiative — say they want most of the current batch of supervisors to be replaced by people who better represent their interests.

"We have so much that we talk about and so much that we see, and we're frustrated," John Rozo, a program technician at the Kern County Department of Aging and Adult Services, said during a press conference held Thursday to mark the occasion. "Our supervisors have the means to do it. And they hear us, but they don't hear us, because there is no action taken. So we need them to step up or we're going to step them out."

The signature campaign takes place on the heels of a long and bruising contract negotiation between county leadership and several unions. In February, the California Public Employment Relations Board determined the county could be fined $780,000 for failing to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the UDW after more than six years of negotiation.

While the county said UDW had specifically lobbied the Legislature to create such a fine with Kern County in mind, union members have argued they have been forced to accept consistently low pay for years.

"We deserve a living wage and we deserve county leaders who understand good jobs are the backbone of every economy," Sandy Moreno, a proponent of the ballot initiative and an in-home supportive service worker, said during the press conference. "This board of supervisors have shown us they don't prioritize good jobs, and our economy is suffering because of it."

Only two of the current supervisors would be immediately impacted, if term limits are put in place. Supervisors Mike Maggard and Leticia Perez, who have both served at least two terms, are not seeking further time in office. Supervisor Phillip Peters is currently serving his first term.

That leaves supervisors David Couch and Zack Scrivner who could potentially run afoul of new term limits if voters eventually approve the measure.

During the press conference, civil rights leader Dolores Huerta dropped a veiled reference to both Couch and Scrivner, who each served on the Bakersfield City Council prior to their election to the Board of Supervisors.

She referenced a 2007 proposal by Couch while he was on the council that would have declared Bakersfield as not a sanctuary city and named English as the city's official language. The council voted down the proposal, but adopted an alternative resolution that called on the U.S. government to truly secure the border and pointed out that English already was the state's official language.

The resolution was supported by both Couch and Scrivner.

"We are going to campaign to pass a law that says, 'You can't stay there forever, with all your hateful values that you have against people of color, against the people here, against the workers who do all of the work here to keep the county safe and clean,'" Huerta said during the press conference.

Organizers needed to collect 21,338 signatures to qualify for the ballot, but ultimately received nearly 30,000. They did so to ensure the initiative qualifies even if thousands of signatures are removed for being noncompliant.

If successful, the Elections Division will determine when the initiative would appear on the ballot. It is expected to appear this year, either in June or November.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.