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Our Opinion: Why bother?

March 15, 2002

That Bob Ham was selected as the county's first intergovernmental relations director was not exactly a surprise.

If he hadn't been selected, in fact, many in the county might have keeled over in shock, us included.

From the time talk of creating such a position in the county government started, it appeared that the job was being created for Ham, who already had extraordinary access to the goings-on of county governance and held tremendous sway with the county executive officer and certain members of the Board of Supervisors. Then, when the qualifications were written and the questions were drawn up, they seemed to be tailored for getting Ham the job.

So why the charade of going through a lengthy and expensive "national" hiring process if the county was just going to hire Ham in the first place? Why lead other applicants to think they might have a shot at such a fine, well-paying job?

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Rather than trying to fool people into believing this whole thing was on the up and up, county officials should have said we intend to hire Ham and done whatever machinations they needed to do to get it done. It would have been a lot more honest. At least one supervisor/protagonist in this hiring (Gary Wyatt) has said that in certain circumstances playing by the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law is acceptable. If that is the case, why not just do it and hire Ham and dance around the legal processes?

We are not surprised by the actions of a few of the county leaders who pushed to get Ham the job. Only Supervisor Wally Leimgruber stood up to oppose a lot of what has gone on with this process, much to the chagrin of some of his colleagues. We applaud Leimgruber. The rest of the board and the County executive officer showed no leadership in this matter.

Ham may do a good job in the lobbying/legislative analysis side of the job. He has years of experience and many contacts in Sacramento, although his affiliations tend to be Republican in a state controlled now and in the foreseeable future by Democrats.

We do wonder how much of the agenda he will bring from his former job as head of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, a group of powerful local businessmen intent on altering county government to suit their needs. Maybe some of those alterations actually could help the county, although we hope Ham doesn't come into the job to do COLAB's bidding.

A big part of Ham's job will be "coordinating communications between the county executive officer, government agencies and county staff." That leads us to wonder if County Executive Officer Ann Capela's personality is so thorny that she needs a $90,000-$100,000 buffer (Ham's likely salary) between herself and county department heads?

Ham actually may be the right person for the position, and some aspects of the job might prove fruitful for the county, but the stink that arose from the shenanigans of his hiring has landed on Ham and on the supervisors.

Ham has said his main goal is to prove this newspaper wrong about this mess. We wish him luck, particularly because county officials, by misleading the public, have tainted his tenure before he even started.

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