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Many Towns, One Tuolumne

The other day I found a news clipping from my 1994 Sonora City Council campaign. It was an advertisement in which I described myself as a "pro-community" candidate. I don’t know whether my claim made any difference, but I did win that ’94 election.

Maintaining a "pro-community" voting record in the City is much easier than in the County. That is because the City is a defined community. Tuolumne County is more like a collection of communities, or maybe an alliance of communities, so "pro-community" voting takes special political skill.

The physical distances between the small settlements within our County make them seem more like stand-alone communities than they actually are. They have their own dynamic, but their connection to the County is vital. They are all entitled to a share of County resources because they pay into the County coffers. Voting their resources back to them gets tricky because in some cases they have to compete with each other as a part of the process.

Even more difficult than voting "pro-community" in a multi-community county is factoring in the needs presented by various groups who consider themselves "communities." These groups include "the arts community", the "logging community", and the "senior community," to name a few. There is a close-knit feel to these groups, and each has value in our local society. Making "pro-community" votes when it comes to them requires a steady hand. You can wind up quite unpopular. Those of us who have lived in Tuolumne County a long time are used to the ways of a multi-jurisdictional, multi-community environment. That’s how things are around here. When a suggestion of change comes up, the likely answer is that "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." If there was such a thing as a County motto, that would be it.

During my first few years at the County, I came to believe that the status quo was probably as good as it was going to get. Then one day, I received a letter from a constituent which made me think differently. Mrs. Bettie Ries wrote to me about having a County flag made. A year later, a flag was approved by the Board of Supervisors, and it is flying in places around the County today. The status quo proved bendable! It took the determination of Mrs. Bettie Ries to make that happen. I was quite encouraged.

Although the county flag is still flying these days, most of us continue to operate as if it were not. That’s fine with me. At this point, I’m confident that the existence of the flag will make a difference in future years, if only in the way people think about Tuolumne County. There’s a lot to be said for unity of purpose, but I’ll leave it to voices in the future to describe new ways in which that can happen.