Feature Photos

John Knight runs on his record

By From page A1 | April 04, 2012

Supervisor John Knight sticks by his classic Mercedes and his record on the board. Village Life photo by Mike Roberts

Shortly after El Dorado Hills’ voters elected John Knight to his District 1 seat on the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors in 2008 Village Life predicted that his vehicle, a tired 1984 Mercedes that looked every bit of its 335,000 odometer reading, wouldn’t survive his first term.

The suspension and upholstery had sagged to the point that Knight’s wife Georgi couldn’t see over the steering wheel.

She requested its retirement but he hesitated, explaining that the old diesel made a statement: “No one who drives a car like this would ever be frivolous with taxpayer money.”

That first term is now winding down and Knight has proven us wrong. The repainted and overhauled Mercedes still lumbers up and down the hills between El Dorado Hills and the government center in Placerville most days, a rolling symbol of Knight’s frugality and our poor prognostication.

He’s put another 40,000 miles on his chariot since it last graced the cover of Village Life. None of those miles ever made it onto an expense report. He’s never filed one, and also takes no medical benefits from the county, he said.

Knight, 64, called his first term “challenging and stimulating.” On top of the routine budget, land use and departmental matters that dominate most board agendas, his board faced a mixed bag of complex and often divisive issues — redistricting, a courthouse relocation, an expensive animal shelter and a bitterly factious historic rail right of way.

They’ve also undertaken a multifaceted and long-overdue zoning ordinance update that prior boards kicked down the road.

Knight took the lead in what ultimately became the board’s highest profile story — the seemingly innocuous replacement of 36 headstones in the Mormon Island Relocation cemetery. Because they contained a certain racial epitaph, the story got legs, eventually landing on the pages of The New York Times.

Through it all, Knight said his board maintained a healthy working relationship. He cited mutual respect, hard work and a shared sense of mission as the group’s defining characteristics, and the key to its success.

As a standing supervisor running for reelection, it’s tempting to dismiss his praise for their performance as so much campaign bluster but it’s hard to deny that the current board was dealt a less-than-stellar hand.

Shrinking tax revenues forced them to cut services, slash budgets and reduce the county workforce by a third over the last four years, he said.

The board also reined in employee benefits, which will save the millions of dollars long term, he said.

“We delivered balanced budgets each year without reducing critical county services to the vast majority of residents who need them,” Knight said. “And we have no debt.”

A job and a half
For most of his career Knight mixed either banking or commercial real estate with public service. That changed in 2008; the demands of his board seat, plus 15 time-consuming boards and commissions, commanded his full attention and then some, he said.

He estimates his average work week at 60 hours, which includes about one hour of preparation for every hour in a board or commission meeting.

His assistant, Loretta Featherston, manages a calendar filled with meetings of the Sacramento Area Council of Government , Capitol Southwest Connector Joint Powers Authority, El Dorado Water and Power Authority, El Dorado County Transportation Commission and the Sacramento Commerce and Trade Organization, among many others.

Supervisors earn $76,862 annually but Knight fought for, and finally won, the right to reduce his own salary. He promptly dinged himself 5 percent.

“I had to ask people to hold the line, or in some cases take a cut,” he said. “I had to set an example.”

Conservative cred
Knight describes himself as a strict fiscal conservative with strong beliefs in the free market and property rights.

He’s a past president of both the El Dorado Hills Rotary and Chamber of Commerce, and said networking with local businesspeople and members of other agencies is not only enjoyable, but helps him stay in touch with his constituency.

It’s also essential in building the trust to broker public-private partnerships that help keep government at the local level, which he considers a core value.

El Dorado Hills is growing. Residential and commercial projects are planned south of Highway 50, with several projects proposed on the Green Valley corridor. The challenge, he said, is making his constituents understand that the General Plan calls for growth in designated areas, including District 1.

“We put our interchanges, sewer, water, reclaimed water, shopping, schools, fire protection and roads here,” Knight said. “To spend hundreds of millions on infrastructure and not have your density here is a waste of public dollars.”

Gesturing to the ridge southeast of Town Center, he continued “The same General Plan protects those green hills because they’re too steep.”

But many of the flat spots, especially those in prime locations, will eventually be developed. “People have heard rumors about a project on the golf course,” he said. “But what better place to put a residential project, where you could walk to Raley’s, Walgreens and Town Center?”

The General Plan update currently in the approval process contains provisions to stem the flow of retail sales over the county line, the phenomenon called “sales tax leakage.”

“It’s going to take more than just putting big boxes in El Dorado Hills,” he said.

Knight supports current proposals for retail projects near Diamond Springs and Placerville.

The General Plan update also includes provisions that reduce barriers to jobs creation. The county’s steep traffic fees are often cited as a huge obstacle for any business considering relocating here. His board recently reduced those fees 15 percent.

Knight gets personally involved in higher profile business openings, including Pottery World and solar energy entrepreneurs Bloo Solar, which recently set up shop in the El Dorado Hills Business Park.

“I had to promise them a building permit within five days, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “They’re talking about 500 to 700 employees here eventually.”

To win his seat Knight defeated El Dorado Hills icons Bob Dorr and Harry Norris in a contentious 2008 campaign.

This year the competition is less well-known, the energetic but politically inexperienced Ron Mikulaco. Does the fresh-faced challenger have a chance to knock off the standing supervisor?

“I don’t think so,” said Knight. “He’s working hard but he won’t outwork me.”

Knight’s campaign strategy is simple. “I’m running on my record.”

Campaign filings indicate that Knight has outstanding debt from the 2008 race, owing $10,000 to himself, $25,000 to a family trust and $30,000 to Helen Baumann’s aborted 2008 state Assembly campaign.

Notable 2011 individual campaign contributions include: Serrano Associates: $2,500, Thomas Winn: $1,000, EDH Investors/Town Center East: $500, Mike McDougal: $500 and Kevin Nagle: $1,000.

Contributions in 2012 include: Doug Veerkamp: $500, Thomas Winn: $1,000, Serranno Associates: $1,000 and  CEMO Commercial: $500.

Knight said he loves where he lives. “The neat thing about El Dorado Hills is that everyone came from somewhere else,” he said. “We’re all here trying to build a community with its own identity. I’m proud to be part of it.”

Mike Roberts

Discussion | 4 comments

  • Frank StephensApril 03, 2012 - 8:22 am

    I have found Mr. Knight completely unresponsive to requests to meet with him regarding county issues. He is a COUNTY supervisor. Yes, he's elected by residents of El Dorado Hills but his vote effects the whole county -- and he's completely clueless. Or is that he's bought and paid for government union employees? Regardless, he fails to represent El Dorado County citizens and does NOT get my vote.

  • Laura SommersApril 04, 2012 - 8:23 am

    I disagree with the previous commentor. I feel John Knight is a Supervisor who has taken the lead with difficult issues such as responsible growth, the budget (which is balanced!) while maintaining vital services that we so rely upon. While other county's are imploding, we take for granted all that we have, which John has fought for and protected for us all. He is not a career politician, he is based in business and I know from those he's worked with that his reputation has always been that of honesty, integrity and passion for making his community a better place to live - and work. Talk is cheap, and I have seen results form John with balancing "quality of community" while (still) attracting business (employers). If he seams unresponsive to discuss things individually, maybe he's buried trying to do something about it.

  • Rob VomundApril 04, 2012 - 1:57 pm

    I liked what I read here about John Knight until I got to the part about his ideal plans for the golf course... filling it with homes. It used to be that one would drive up Hwy 50, get to EDH, and it looked wonderful! Rolling hills and oak trees. There were homes, but they didn't dominate the landscape. Today the view one gets when they arrive to EDH is a sea of homes. Every space, even the hilltops and ridge lines, are covered in homes. I think we should change our name to El Dorado Homes! The golf course is in such a prime location, on the Blvd right off the freeway. It almost acts as the entrance to EDH. If it were filled with homes, how would that benefit existing residents, those who are paying taxes today? The answer is that it would not benefit it us. I can only guess that John Knight sees the golf course as potential tax revenue. While I very much like his conservative fiscal outlook, I don't believe that this is the place to look for more revenue. Imagine, however, if the golf course were turned into a beautiful park filled with picnic grounds, a kids splash area, a sports field and tennis courts. A place to play. To have fun. To be outdoors. That's what EDH is about! Not only would that that look far more attractive in that spot as compared to more homes, it would be a huge added benefit for many who live in EDH today. I support nearly all of what John Knight stands for. This one particular issue, however, is an area where we don't see things the same way. I'd love to see John Knight work with our CSD to create a long term plan for converting the golf course into a park. I know we don't have the money today, but let's lock in the space for when the money is there down the road.

  • J MillerApril 04, 2012 - 5:22 pm

    John Knight probably believes he's doing the right thing for EDH. In retrospect, most of the bankers that made loans, that we the tax payer are paying for now, thought the same. Knight works in banking ! Folks should look at larry Keenan's open letter to Village Life 2/15/2012 about more homes in the Dixon Ranch area. Once a banker always a banker!



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