Vote for demonstrated abilities | Guest Column

By Steve Ulvi

We are approaching an autumn of existential decisions at the ballot box. Elections at the national, regional and local level may have serious consequences depending on which half of the populace you generally emote with. Here in this archipelago, the issues are sadly much the same as at larger scales, but the range of options for betterment are severely constrained.

On San Juan our embedded socio-economic patterns, business first and community second attitudes that were never a smart long game and now dependable marine resources are swirling down the john. Oh, newsflash! The horrific climate genie is billowing out of the static past gaining exponential strength every record-setting summer. Then there is the ugly reminder that “whiskey is for drinkin’, water for fighting”. But let’s leave that for another day.

Most decisions will be difficult enough for the average voter, even truth-informed voters (sadly a minority), due to the nature of dealing with modern issues that are more complex and intractable than ever. Thankfully, our offices are non-partisan and we all live in the same fishbowls. Even with the hard work of the current County Council, public transparency in local government processes is still a work in progress.

Do you attend County or Town council meetings or regularly peruse their meeting schedules and agendas these days? Have you ever praised these people and staff for their successes? Does it really surprise you that two of the three current county council members, none with previous elected legislative experience, all in their first terms, are calling it quits? Who can blame them?

But what is deeply concerning is that 5 of 6 of our stand-up residents who are vying for the two open seats have never experienced the 24/7 demands, nagging issues spawning associated issues like in a whack-a-mole game in an earthquake, being “answerable” for steeply rising costs of living and to increasingly embittered public factions. Our San Juan district is a poster child for neighborhood feuding and small-town infighting.

One thing is sure; many of us are increasingly anxious about both our individual and community economic well-being. The future of young islanders with families, struggling to secure reasonable housing is particularly dark given our lack of economic diversity, anti-growth zoning and pollyannish residential development policies.

An obviously bright and personable but inexperienced County Manager, unfamiliar with our expanding potluck of problems, arrives to take the helm in summer. We can roll the dice again with county oversight by an inexperienced council or recognize the forewarning and re-elect Rick Hughes to bring to bear 7 years of experienced council leadership on day one. No stumbling learning curve. His record as a multi-generational islander, owner of several successful businesses, a farm and his energetic approaches to difficult issues has been there for all to see. His presence on council will provide crucial experience, mentoring and a solid grounding in the realities of small county competition for funds to get on with the existential work of reinventing our economic strategies one component at a time.

Simply stated, if you think that a lack of elected experience with a constituency of 18,000 unsettled souls in very demanding times will bring a fresh perspective to the county council that will be a game changer you underestimate just how tough (and unrewarding) it is to drink out of a firehose everday.