Kern County’s annual “State of the County” address is a different creature than its federal counterpart.
There’s always dinner and drinks at the county’s event, which was held this year on Wednesday evening at the DoubleTree hotel in Bakersfield.
It’s certainly a much more enjoyable offering than the buffet of sour stares, unilateral applause and parboiled partisan tension that was offered up at the Washington, D.C. event the night before.
And there are videos – bright, positive videos about people, companies and charities doing great things around the county.
Guests who listened to Kern County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mike Maggard's keynote speech Wednesday came away with a sense that good things are happening in the county despite the substantial challenges Kern faces.
“It’s always a good thing, in one setting, to get an idea of all the good things happening in the county,” said former Supervisor Jon McQuiston.
Former Supervisor Steve Perez, walking out with McQuiston, said they never faced an extended economic challenge like the county does now.
But, he said, “I see a Board of Supervisors that have accepted a challenge and are doing the best to make it right."
Attorney and developer Phil Rudnick, unique in suspenders and straw hat among suits and ties, said the county needs to focus on the things that still need to be done.
"I love to hear all the great things," he said. But, "we're not perfect yet."
Maggard addressed the county’s $28 million structural deficit only briefly, mentioning that the county has cut the deficit in half in the past two years.
“We’re in the second year of a four-year plan to cut costs and apply the sparing use of budget reserves to put County finances on a steady keel once again – all while providing great services to you,” he said.
There wasn’t much talk about the continuing slump in the price of oil, the ongoing challenges of rising employee pension costs or a burgeoning contract battle with Kern County Fire Fighters union over changes to pay and benefit structures.
Maggard instead focused his address on “modeling excellence.”
The evening started with presentations by two major sponsors of the event, Rio Tinto — which operates a major boron mine near the community of Boron — and the Kern Economic Development Corporation.
Maggard followed with his keynote speech, which reminded the audience of the positive efforts the county is making to improve itself and its service to the public.
He talked about plans to spend more than $4 million to improve parks and create a new future for one of the system's jewels — Hart Park.
Maggard pointed out efforts to hire new Kern County Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters to shore up pubic safety protections.
He lauded county efforts to reduce animal euthanization, improve county libraries, and reinvigorate the county’s efforts to repair its aging road system.
Maggard spent some time talking about Lean Six Sigma, a management and innovation tool the county has embraced in the hopes that it will foster new ideas that will get better services to citizens with fewer resources.
Efforts to help foster youth.
The new county Family Justice Center – where social and justice services would be housed in the hopes of aiding victims of crime.
Better services for veterans.
Everywhere, he said, the county is trying to improve.
“Many, many County departments are doing a heroic job of optimizing services with tightly limited resources. And we can do even better,” Maggard said.
His address also lauded a long list of private businesses and agencies who, he said, are making Kern County great in their own way.
And he pointed out that the county is partnering with the Kern Economic Development Corporation — the co-host of Wednesday’s event — on the Advance Kern effort.
As part of that program the county has increased tax breaks and removed caps on tax credits for companies who locate large numbers of jobs in Kern County in the hopes of diversifying the county’s economy beyond the cyclical industries of oil and agriculture.
Maggard recognized the Mojave Air and Spaceport and its innovative businesses.
He talked about Aera Energy’s new Belridge Solar Project’s effort to power oil and gas extraction with green energy.
He talked about Tejon Ranch’s Tejon Mountain Village commercial and residential project.
And Maggard praised the Wonderful Company and Grimmway Farms for their efforts to bring educational opportunities to small rural communities like Lost Hills, Arvin and Lamont.
He also noted Bakersfield College and Cal State Bakersfield’s record for helping offer a middle class life to disadvantaged students.
Ultimately, Maggard argued, the county is putting in the hard work needed to make the county strong again.
“County finances are not out of the woods just yet — but the path we're on will soon lead us to a sustainable financial future,” Maggard promised. “As we work toward that future, there is no better time than now to rethink and reformulate County government — to embrace and deliver smart change. We will chase perfection and in so doing we will capture excellence in everything we attempt.”