Supervisor-elect Ron Mikulaco won his District 1 seat in the June primary, giving him ample time to decide on an administrative assistant and fill a couple dozen appointments that go with the job.
He named former manufacturing executive Michelle Elliston, 45, as administrative assistant and also announced Rich Stewart, 53, as his choice for the El Dorado County Planning Commission. For the Economic Development Advisory Committee Mikulaco has asked Marshall Medical Center spokesman T Abraham to retain his seat.
The two dozen or so appointments to various commissions, committees, boards and joint power authorities that advise and assist the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors have been called the currency of local electoral politics, and are often awarded to supporters, friends or even family members, sometimes as a toe-in-the-water introduction to county politics for those interested in seeking higher office.
Mikulaco’s upset victory over incumbent Supervisor and Planning Commission veteran John Knight was achieved with less than $6,000 in donations and a ground game that featured more shoe leather and sunscreen than glossy mail pieces, robo-calls, campaign consultants or high-profile endorsements.
He said he’s aware that he’ll assume office under a microscope as the ultimate outsider, as unfamiliar with the inner-workings of the county government processes and personalities as any rookie supervisor in recent memory. But rather than surround himself with seasoned polticos, Mikulaco’s selections indicate that the self-described “neophyte to the process” would prefer fresh eyes with high IQs and strong education backgrounds who’ve had success in the private sector.
Mikulaco conceded that he might have spent more time on the baseball diamond than the classroom during his community college tenure, “So I want to surround myself with smart, educated people.”
Elliston is one. The El Dorado Hills resident completed her masters work in industrial organizational psychology at 22, launching a 20-plus year career in manufacturing, specializing in the “aftermarket services” niche.
A long-time board member of the Highland View homeowners association, Elliston and her neighbors turned out in force at several meetings to contest the use of their streets as a back door to the proposed 714-home Dixon Ranch project. She met Mikulaco at one of those meetings.
Because Mikulaco’s current residence abuts Dixon Ranch, he will likely have to recuse himself from voting on the project. Elliston nonetheless supported his candidacy.
Mikulaco recalls being impressed with her intelligence and knowledge of the issues, and insists it was those traits, not her support, that motivated him to hire her as his assistant.
Retired IT executive Hal Erpenbeck, who Mikulaco asked to spend another four years on the county Aging Commission,plans to fight for a senior daycare in El Dorado Hills. See sidebar.
Susan Mickus will continue a 10-year run on the Cemetery Advisory Commission. “I’m doing it because it needs to be done,” she said. “There’s so much history in those cemeteries and we’ve lost too much already.”
Widely respected by local history buffs, she’s made preserving pioneer cemeteries her life’s work. She co-founded the far more active Pioneer Cemeteries Commission with fellow cemetery preservation firebrand Sue Silver in 1995 to prevent the loss of historic cemeteries to development, and to fight for public access to cemetery parcels through publicly vested titles.
Like Erpenbeck and Mickus, Abraham’s concern is for the work, not any perks of his committee assignment.
The Economic Development Advisory Committee and its Regulatory Reform subcommittee are led by Placerville Attorney Jim Brunello, who’s recruited a high-powered private sector roster of volunteer architects, engineers, developers, builders and real estate professionals.
Chamber of Commerce leaders and county fire officials are often at the table with sleeves rolled up, as are members of the county Transportation and Development Services Departments.
Together they’ve spent the greater part of four years amassing thousands of hours attempting to straighten out the county’s overlapping and sometimes contradictory General Plan, ordinances, codes and regulations.
“It’s incredibly hard work, and very few people realize the depth of the talent pool working on it, all for free” said Abraham, an El Dorado Hills resident who also sits on local nonprofit boards.
“And it’s not just developers,” he added. “These are people who really care about this place. It’s a true public-private partnership and it works.”
The Planning Commission advises the board on land use matters, recommending and in some cases ruling on projects within the framework of the General Plan and the California Environmental Quality Act.
With a targeted General Plan amendment looming and numerous large west-county residential projects on the slate for 2013 and beyond, the next Planning Commission is likely to see long agendas and contentious meetings.
“The next board will definitely shape the future of the county,” said Stewart. The retired chemical engineer has followed local development proposals and is concerned about congestion in northern El Dorado Hills.
Before retiring, Stewart did reservoir modeling and economic analysis of properties for large oil companies. The work involved regulatory compliance, zoning and permitting through a myriad of government agencies.
“It was pretty good background for the Planning Commission,” said the soft-spoken future commissioner. “I saw the position as a way to give back to the community.”
He said he’s got no current interest in any higher office, but added, “later who knows.”
Stewart is one of the spokespeople for the Green Valley Road Alliance, which Village Life described in July as “a loose group of activists with heavyweight resumes” who are concerned about the scope and impact of currently proposed projects along the two-lane artery.
Stewart said he’s “not anti-growth,” but is rather “pro-intelligent growth.”
“And just because you aren’t the first in line with a plan, doesn’t preclude your right to develop your property,” he added.
Stewart said he’s attended nearly all the recent commission meetings and is looking forward to diving in.
If Stewart is the most high-profile appointment, the replacement of popular Administrative Assistant Loretta Featherston is surely the most politically sensitive.
Featherston has a long history in District 1, having served under supervisors Knight and Rusty Dupray.
But Mikulaco wanted fresh eyes at his side. “Everyone loves Loretta, so this was hard, but I wanted an assistant who doesn’t know anyone,” he said. “Everything is neutral and new to her.”
Elliston brings 20 years of executive experience. She’s set up large organizations and managed multi-million dollar budgets as an “aftermarket services” specialist, providing the parts and services required after an electronics component is sold.
“When you built something you know exactly how many parts you need,” she said. “When it comes back for repair you have to estimate what you’ll need, and you have to do it all before you manufacture the thing.
“It’s not easy, which is why some of the brightest minds in the industry are in aftermarket services,” she continued.
Elliston said she takes pride in the fact that she created domestic jobs in the large electronics firms she worked for, Jaybil, Solectron and Celestica. She loved the work, but motherhood came along, something she couldn’t do from an airport terminal or a factory floor in Tennessee. She took a timeout in 2009.
She’ll likely start as a level three supervisor’s assistant, earning a little less than $55,000 per year, generous by local standards, but a fraction of what she earned in her past life.
“It’s fair compensation,” she said. “Admins work very hard and have to know a lot. My predecessors certainly did and I hope to continue that tradition.”
Reached by phone, Featherston was chipper and impressed with her replacement. “She stopped by to introduce herself and was very receptive to everyone here,” she said. “I’m happy to work with her.”
Elliston doesn’t want her glossy resume to outshine her boss. Her primary objective is “to help Ron do exactly as he wishes,” she said. “I can be very opinionated, but so can he, and he’s the supervisor.”
The most exciting thing about Supervisor Mikulaco is “He doesn’t owe anyone anything,” she said. “These elections have become major fundraising exercises. There are reasons all those people give all that money. Ron didn’t see any of that, which means he has no pressure to do anything other than what’s best for this community.”
Fish and Game Committee Dennis Burns replaces Larry Nelson.
Committee advises the supervisors on county fish and game matters. Members meet monthly in Placerville and receive $15 per month plus mileage.
Parks and Recreation Commission Bill Vandegrift replaces Guy Gertsch.
Commission oversees development and maintenance of recreational opportunities in county. Members meet monthly in Placerville without compensation or reimbursement of travel expenses.
Library Commission Marilyn Marcroft replaces Carmen Richards.
Commission advises supervisors on county library services. Commissioners meet monthly in Placerville or South Lake Tahoe, without compensation or reimbursement of travel expenses.
Civil Service Commission Dick Ross replaces Ken Cater.
Commission hears appeals on dismissals, suspensions or demotions of county employees who have attained Civil Service status. Members meet twice per month plus as needed, and are paid $25 for regular meetings, $50 for evening hearings and $100 for day hearings. Mileage and expenses are reimbursed.
Local Disaster Council Dion Nugent replaces Geoff Miller.
Council advises supervisors and the director of emergency services on the county Emergency Plan and emergency & mutual aid plans & agreements. Meetings are held in Placerville every three months, at a minimum, without compensation or expense reimbursement.
Assessment Appeals Board Steve Ferry fills vacancy. Board hears assessment appeals under the terms of state law. Three member panels are assigned by board clerk for specific hearings. Full board meets once per year. Members are paid $50 per four-hour session for meetings and hearings, plus travel expenses.
Fair Association Board of Directors Sam Bradley replaces Joy Knight-Fuji.
Board promotes the annual County Fair and encourages agriculture, horticulture, stock raising and domestic industry in the county. Members meet monthly in Placerville and are reimbursed for excess mileage.