The TRUTH Forum happened this past Monday night and Tuesday morning at the Board of Supervisors Chambers. It was long and at times tense but successful. We had great attendance, a lot of public input and solid interaction between the public, the supervisors and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. Now everyone measures success differently and you can disagree with me on what constitutes success, but when the community turns out to speak in such large numbers about a subject that means so much to them I call it a success.
You may recall, the TRUTH Act and SB 54, the Values Act, require an annual forum for public input. This year we went above and beyond and had two forums including a rare evening session so that people who work during the day could also attend and be heard.
Sure, there was plenty of criticism from the public toward the Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff’s Office, as one might expect when the public is asked to comment on a topic that can be so politically charged and so personal to many. But conflict happens in a democracy, and this dialogue, even though it may make some uncomfortable, is necessary. I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors for making themselves available for both an evening session and a daytime session. And I appreciate Chief Deputy Tyson Davis, who made himself available to an audience that was at times very critical of his department. Additionally, I appreciate that Sheriff Donny Youngblood was able to attend the Tuesday morning event.
We are at a crossroads here. Your District 4 office and the KCSO took significant steps in the past year to work closely with the ACLU, the United Farm Workers Foundation and others to better comply with new laws that limit interaction between the Sheriff’s Office and ICE. We’ve worked closely with county counsel to move toward greater transparency and compliance with the TRUTH Act and Values Act. In fact, KCSO and the ACLU are meeting next week to continue trying to resolve differences. The county, KCSO, ACLU, people are not adversaries. My hope is that those of you who feel otherwise will one day feel differently, though that may take time. But trust is earned, and I will work to earn your trust.
I hope the community can see that much of what you desire is already coming to fruition. Bridges are being built. Since the last TRUTH Forum in December, we have met regularly with the ACLU, UFWF and other groups representing immigrant communities to develop the change you desire. Our doors are open for more of these discussions.
The passion and the fear that the community feels was expressed at the TRUTH Forum. We heard you. The Sheriff’s Office heard you. It is sworn to protect all of you, and the Board of Supervisors is sworn to serve you.
So next steps need to include how to build trust. My door is open. And to the extent I can facilitate dialogue, I will. Contact the District 4 office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 661-868-3680.
David Couch represents Kern County's Fourth District.