The Lone Vote

Jane Parker was often the lone progressive vote in a conservative wilderness, particularly on land-use decisions, such as her opposition to Monterey Downs, a project that was never built.

Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker is facing back-to-back days of employee reviews of some of the county’s top managers: Civil Rights Officer Juan Rodriguez, Public Defender Sue Chapman, County Counsel Les Girard, Natividad Medical Center CEO Gary Gray, and the guy ultimately responsible for how the county government functions, County Administrative Officer Charles McKee.

It’s a process with rubrics and preparation and one that, before Parker took her seat on the Board of Supervisors in 2009, didn’t exist.

(What did exist? Apparently, frustration and yelling.)

“At first it was hard,” Parker says. “When you’re not used to doing this stuff, and then having real, honest conversations, it’s hard. But even colleagues who had a hard time with it in the beginning, in the second and third year, you could see the honesty and comfort increasing on both sides, and we could see the start of the benefits of communication and prioritizing goals.”

After 11 years in office, Dec. 31 marks Parker’s last day as an elected official.

Weekly: It’s mind-boggling that performance evaluations weren’t a formal thing when you took office. What else have you seen change internally?

Parker: I took office the second Tuesday in January 2009, and that’s the day I asked the clerk of the board – my first day – to put the board agendas and materials online. They had never been online before. If you wanted to read them, you had to call and ask that they be faxed to you. Or you could pick it up. There were some email distribution lists, but for the general public, good luck.

What’s been good surprising about your time on the board?

It’s a challenge to get a majority vote. Especially on issues where there’s a lot of money involved, it gets challenging to do the right thing for people. But to me, the real difference comes from the presence of the community in decision-making. They need to be a part of the conversation. It’s why I ran, and what I wanted to do when I got elected was bring the voice of the community more fully in the decision-making process.

When you get the community, a board member – not even a majority – and county staff together, you can achieve things that one or two can’t do alone. Examples are ViaCare [health insurance for low-income adults]. Early childhood development was another, stopping bad land use is another, violence as a public health issue is another – and the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace grew out of that.

What’s been bad surprising?

Sometimes I was surprised by the actions of some of my colleagues. They would make impassioned speeches about certain things, then the actions they took seemed inconsistent.

What’s an example of that?

Pesticides. There were a lot of speeches on how important it is to protect families and children, but when we had the ability to ask the ag commissioner to post all the pesticide applications on their website, I was the only one willing to say yes. He could have come back and told us it would be too difficult, but somehow I doubt that. We never got to where it was possible because my colleagues weren’t willing to support it.

It’s disappointing, concerning and sad. We say we care about the vulnerable and yet when it comes to doing something simple, there wasn’t interest.

What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the way I did the job. I feel being open to input, reading and understanding the issues and deciding based on the situation, not whether I liked the people involved or not, are things to be proud of. Staying calm in the face of yuckiness.

And I’m proud of the work I’ve done to encourage young people, women and people of color to run for office. I think I’ve been a good example of what elected public service can be. You don’t have to be super special to run for office and do a good job; if you’re a person with lived experience, that’s valuable.

What happens for you next?

[State Sen.] John Laird told me, “Don’t set your alarm.” I imagine my life will show me what it’s going to be. I have a political action committee [Monterey County New Progressives] to support women, younger candidates and people of color. That’s where I’ll be.

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