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"I don’t think of it as politics. I think of it as public service."

On Friday, March 16, 2018, Fiddletown author Elaine Zorbas sat down with Andrea Macon to discuss Andrea's candidacy, background, and philosophy of government.

 

EZ: You grew up in a rural area and have lived in rural Amador County for 23 years. What are some of the qualities of rural living that you value most?

AM: I grew up Central Oregon in the tiny town of Alfalfa, which makes Amador look large. One of the things that I remember most and was so important is that everyone had an amazing work ethic., and also a sense of community. You could always count on someone to help you, and you knew when someone needed your help. Everyone reached out to their neighbors to help them whenever it was needed.

 

EZ: What are some of the challenges of rural living?

AM: From my adult perspective, the biggest challenge is the lack of continued education. You can get through high school, but then if you want to go on to college, you have to leave. And it would be really nice to stay for the first two years closer to home; as a parent, I would have liked that opportunity for my children. Also health care is always challenging in a small community. You either have to go to the big city, or if you don’t have something local then you have to work with the community to make that happen.

 

EZ: What has led you to run for Amador County supervisor?

AM: People ask me this a lot [laughter] but usually they use the word “possessed,” as in, “what would possess you to be involved in politics?” And my answer is always the same, I don’t think of it as politics. I think of it as public service and I think it is very, very important for all of us to be involved in our own governance – and also in the welfare of our own communities, including how we volunteer, where we work, and where we spend our money.

 

EZ: What distinguishes local government from the larger political scene, which is so divisive these days?

AM: I love local government, I always have. With local government you can make a difference, your impact matters. It’s also more accountable. When you make a decision or you’re involved in a process in local government, it affects your friends, it affects your kids, it affects your kid’s teachers. Everyone in the community is someone you know, so you see directly the effects of those decisions.

 

EZ: What will you do to make local government more transparent and accessible?

AM: In any organization, transparency is incredibly important. From a government perspective, you as a public official are spending someone else’s money and because of that, your accountability is tenfold, and therefore transparency is even more important. In Amador County, we recently had a video feed added for the board of supervisor’s meetings. I really like that. If you can’t attend, you can still participate. The county website has a lot of information in it; there are ways to make it more transparent and more intuitive. I’d like to work on that if I get elected.

Transparency is also a matter of having a welcoming attitude towards other people to encourage involvement in government. I would like to see more of that in Amador County.

 

EZ: How would you implement that?

AM: I would love to get the younger generation involved in government. Our board of supervisor’s meetings are during the day. Kids can’t come because they are in school; a lot of people can’t come because they are at work. Maybe once in a while having an evening [board] meeting, reaching out to the schools and inviting kids to come. Have a, “take a kid to government” day! Civic engagement and civic knowledge is really lacking in our schools these days and we need more of that. These kids are going to be our future government and we want them involved as early as possible.

 

EZ: How does volunteerism fit in with the whole picture?

AM: Volunteerism fits in with everything! I’ve always been a huge advocate for volunteerism and love that our schools actually require a certain number of volunteer hours before our kids can graduate. I took a nonprofit class years ago, and one of the things I looked at was the amount of volunteerism in our county and nonprofit donations compared to other counties, and we are rock stars! We have so many volunteer hours being contributed, so many nonprofit donations. Our people take care of themselves in this county. And we should be really proud of that and we should certainly continue and encourage that. Volunteering is so satisfying and it helps you get involved and be aware of the things happening in your communities.

 

EZ: Tell me about your volunteer experience for the Lockwood Fire District.

AM: When I first moved here 23 years ago, I was living up-county at Fiddletown and Shake Ridge (Roads) and I didn’t know anybody. There are no other organizations up in that area so it is hard to get out and meet people. I was looking for what there was, and it was the fire department – so I [thought] I can volunteer at the fire department and that is how I can meet my neighbors. I started as their secretary with the [Lockwood] board of directors, I worked on many different committees, and I was eventually on the board of directors, and ultimately, the president. 

 

EZ: What accomplishments with the Lockwood Fire District are you proudest about?

AM: One of the things that I really was proud of is we sent out a questionnaire to all of our constituents reaching out to them to tell us what they needed. They told us if they had a gate that was locked, if they had a really narrow road, if they had a water source, if their address was visible – things that a fire department wants to know about their residents. You don’t usually get all that information. We were able to log all of that. If someone had animals, or they had oxygen tanks – the list was huge and was very well done and so many people responded. From a financial perspective, we were able to increase our funding. We were able to get a $280,000 engine through FEMA. We built a second station and added numerous additional water tanks throughout our district.

 

EZ: With fire an existential threat to our area, that approach seems like a wonderful outreach that could really help. What can be done to ready the public to be prepared – both for prevention and during an emergency?

AM: I would love to see that on a much larger scale countywide. I think that there are a lot of organizations that could use that information. A big part of my current job is analyzing data, that is kind of my thing. Combining all that information gives you a concrete picture of what you are dealing with so that you know what your resources are (or aren’t).

 

EZ: Are there other ideas you have to help the public be prepared for an emergency?

AM: When it comes to fire emergency, people often talk about “if” and in the back of my head I say “when.” I feel that it is just a matter of time for us. I just had a call from a gentleman in Pine Grove who was calling because he was concerned about his neighbor’s property and how overgrown it was. I asked him, “Are your neighbors elderly, or do they not have funding to perhaps hire someone to do that [growth clearing]? And he replied, “Well, I don’t know.” That’s part of it -- people need to take a neighborhood approach and be aware of what their neighborhood as a whole needs, and then bringing those people together. Government can only solve so many of your problems, but if we work together in smaller groups, hopefully we can address some of those fire mitigation efforts – basically defensible space, preparedness for evacuation regarding animals, people (where do you go? even more importantly, when do you go?). If we stop looking at it as ‘well, this needs to be a solution somebody does for us,’ and work together and see what we can do together, that’s a better approach.

 

EZ: This is a challenge because a lot of people don’t live close together.

AM: Yes. This is very true. Seclusion, especially up country, contributes to many challenges; defensible space needs, finding community assistance, and those without transportation not having access to services.  

 

EZ: You have been going around the community talking to people. What are some of the issues that have come up?

AM: The issue that everyone wants to talk about is road maintenance – that’s right at the top of the list. After that there is economic development, senior services especially for remote seniors, cannabis, the casinos – all the big C’s!

 

EZ: Let’s talk about casinos….

AM: The casinos are an interesting concern. The county has been fighting this for quite a while, to the tune of 3 million + dollars. And Buena Vista, as far as I know, is a go. And then with the Plymouth casino, I believe that there is one more appeal available, if the county decides to take it to the Supreme Court. Depending on how that goes, the communities may have to be prepared to eventually evaluate mitigations for the Plymouth casino once the tribal-state compact is in place. I believe that they are already in place for the Buena Vista casino.

One of the challenges for both casinos has been that Supervisor Oneto has needed to recuse himself from those discussions because of property conflicts. As a result, District 5 has not actually had supervisorial representation for the Plymouth casino. That would change with me. I don’t have those conflicts of interest, and I would be able to weigh in on casino issues.

 

EZ: What kind of effects do you think the casino will have on the community?

AM: Traffic is obviously going to be a huge impact. But, again, traffic and other issues will be addressed with mitigation that will consider environmental impacts, fire protection, emergency services, law enforcement, gambling and substance abuse, waste disposal, education, etc. My biggest concerns are first, losing the historic, country feel of Plymouth. Our agricultural environment is such a huge part of what makes Amador County special. Secondly, with the approval of the Elk Grove Casino, and including Buena Vista and Plymouth, there would be six casinos in a 52 mile radius. I have to wonder if that is economically viable.

 

EZ: District 5 includes several towns, ranches and vineyards, wineries, and rural residential areas far from the Highway 49 corridor. What are some of the needs within this diverse district?

AM: The most interesting and challenging aspect of District 5 is how each community is so unique. While issues are shared across District 5, those issues take precedence differently from community to community. A one-size fits all solution cannot be applied district-wide. River Pines is working towards addressing their antiquated water infrastructure with a successful grant, and figuring out how to deter those who speed through their town. Plymouth is celebrating their finished roundabout while dealing with the balance of managed growth and historical preservation. As you head up the hill to Fiddletown and upper Volcano, tree mortality and fire safety top the list of concerns, followed by an absence of services, especially for seniors. Many of the communities share concerns about Air BnB management, property clean up and code enforcement efforts, and, of course, everyone is impacted by Amador's decaying roads. Hiring a full time grant writer/manager at the county level could assist many of the District 5 communities in their efforts and allow collaboration countywide on funding efforts. Remote services and improved communication about elder transportation options could result in improved access.   

 

EZ: How do you see yourself working with the other members of the board of supervisors?

AM: I think very well. They all have very different personalities, but that brings a lot of value into a board. While civility and respect is key, you don’t want five entirely politically agreeable people sitting on any board. A diversity of ideas and perspective are key to governance. You need to have those different views to really, truly represent all of your constituents in the county. But again, civility and respect need to be a priority.

 

EZ: That’s always a challenge. How would you bridge the divide with all the differences?

AM: A lot of the national political climate contributes to the challenges of civility, even though a lot of those national issues are not a reflection of anything the board of supervisors ever deals with. Those are off of our table. But really the key solution to any type of divisiveness is just sitting down and being willing to listen. There are going to be problems we cannot solve, definitely not on our own for sure. Being willing to listen and have empathy and being open-minded to someone else’s opinion – even if you don’t agree with it – is key.

 

EZ: What skills and experience do you bring from your life experience?

AM: I was a small business owner. I owned a Mail Boxes, Etc. store for 12 years. And that definitely gives you a huge appreciation for entrepreneurs and people who have businesses and the challenges that they face. It was a learning process every day! But it also makes you a very creative problem solver and able to recognize business opportunities. I remember that there was one gentleman with whom we really didn’t see eye-to-eye and he told me one time, “You and I, we really disagree on a lot, but you are very resourceful!” [ laughter]. Thank you – I’ll take that as a compliment! Retail requires really great customer service, and often that comes with understanding what someone is not asking you, getting the nuances of what they need… and I continue to do that now.

I’ve been in IT ([information technology] for almost 15 years and a lot of that is customer service, a lot of it is working as a liaison with the division of worker’s comp., and contract negotiations. Then there is the IT aspect of it – how do you solve problems with technology? What kind of technology is available? And I think that applies to almost any business you are in, be it government or private industry – you are going to use that technology background.

 

EZ: I recently heard a person running for higher political office say that in our rural counties, people lack the mobile and internet service that third world countries now have. How can this disparity be addressed?

AM: It’s going to be a challenge, because one of the ways to get more technology access is through cell towers, and anytime that someone wants to put up a cell tower here, nobody wants it in their back yard. Which I totally get – they are ugly, even when they try to look like a tree. I mean no tree looks like that! There has to be some compromise. Fiber optic options are much less of an eyesore; they are more expensive but, again better service. So there are some options; then too, it usually comes down to money and how you can make that happen. The thing about technology is that it can be shared, and then those costs can be diffused between multiple partners. That’s another way to look at it – if you partner emergency services with government services with private industry, that technology could be more affordable.

 

EZ: We were in a situation in Fiddletown where the power went out and there is no mobile access, unless you have Verizon, so emergency-wise it became a critical issue.

AM: A lot of people have gotten rid of their land-lines, but when I lived up-country, I kept mine because when the power goes out, I like to be able to make a phone call. That’s one of the advantages to keeping a little of the older technology around! (We also had a rotary phone in the shop – but that was more for the entertainment of the kids).

 

EZ: Your sons grew up here and went to the local schools. Can you comment on opportunities and obstacles that exist locally for young people in this county?

AM: Opportunities -- growing up in a small community makes you more anchored. And again, I think there is more encouragement for volunteerism, for general involvement in your community. The challenges that come with that are definitely, once you are out of school, where do you work? Where do you go to school? Where do you live? For young kids just getting started, finding some place to rent is next to impossible in this county. It’s really a challenge. Minimum wage jobs are available, but employment is definitely easier if young people move away.

I would love to see more vocational education and more vocational employers – things like machine shops, print shops, light industrial – people who are willing to hire kids, or bring them on as interns when they are in high school and get them ready to go out into the work force. We are on our way there. We have some good resources in our county that are getting geared up for that.

Economic development is one of the key things people are very concerned about. Responsible economic development is the most important part of that. There are some great opportunities in this county that I would love to see advanced. It would be nice to see some agricultural-support businesses.  People who grow olives send them to Stockton to be processed; wool gets shipped to South Carolina, then Maine and finally to Rancho Cordova. Rancho Cordova is our neighbor; we could partner with them and provide those services locally. If you raise organic beef, you want to have them slaughtered in an organically-certified slaughterhouse. Why not do that locally?  Additionally, I think we could also encourage the film industry to film in our gorgeous county.

 

EZ: How can Amador County retain its historic rural character in our towns and yet develop economically? So many once beautiful places have been spoiled by growth and commercialism and now look like Anyplace USA.

AM: Growth is inevitable. Managed growth is definitely the key, and that depends on a well-thought out, well-enforced general plan. The agricultural aspect of our county is incredibly important – it gives us the flavor of who we are – the vintners, the ranchers, and our farmers. Forest management, education, and health services are not only services we need to increase, but are also avenues for managed economic growth.

 

EZ: The farmer’s markets here have struggled, and there is that disparity between knowing what is good to eat and healthy eating.

AM: I think we are on the way. I was reading something about agriculture in our county and it was saying that our farms are getting smaller – we have smaller farms, but they are increasing in number. That is a really responsible way to introduce diverse agriculture. We have vineyards, (around 50% of our agricultural economy), we have cattle, we have sheep. I would love to see more diversification into fruit and vegetables. Having been a master food preserver, and canning since I was a kid, sustainable and local agriculture, utilizing all food sources, and reducing food waste are paramount.  

Calaveras has an indoor farmer’s market out by the airport, I think it’s open all year long. They have a standard little grocery store with lots of organic choices, and then they have booths that they rent to the farmers. They sell milk, they sell cheese, they sell meat. It has a bit of everything, including gift booths for things like honey. Amador County could copy that idea. 

 

EZ: And hopefully, government will support that in some way.

AM: There are ways that government can support business. And one is the obvious – they need to spend their money locally, just like the residents, whenever possible. As our agriculture diversifies, perhaps our schools can start purchasing food from our local farmers. Perhaps our waste management processes can include composting options that keep food waste out of our landfills. Business licensing process – I haven’t looked into that closely here – but that may need to be streamlined to make it easier for people to open a business. Some of the businesses I’ve seen go through that process seem to struggle a little bit.

 

EZ: In that same line with preserving our historical towns, there are incentives statewide.

AM: There are. As a rule, I think we do fairly well on this. I think it is important to people in this county to be aware of their historical [heritage]. We have the Amador County Historical Society. We have a little bit of something in every part of our county, which is always amazing to me. You go to Fiddletown and you’ve got the older buildings that they are working so hard to preserve; you go into Plymouth and the same thing. The Knight’s Foundry has just gone through that amazing renovation in Sutter Creek. What a project that was!  I don’t think our county government takes advantage of grants enough, though, and I would endeavor to get a full-time grant writer added.  Providing a collaborative approach between all of the county departments on grants would be much more efficient.

 

EZ: Nonprofits have that special day in November where they all meet in one place to raise donations.

AM: Exactly, and a lot of it is tax deductible. I have had someone that wanted to donate to my campaign recently. He said, “but it's not tax-deductible.” I responded, “It isn't, but let me send you a list of my favorite charities in the county. That's almost kind of the same! Tell them you're doing it for me.”

 

EZ: What distinguishes you from your opponent, Brian Oneto? He can claim experience.

AM: He does have experience, and I do applaud anyone that has been in public service, especially as long as he has. Twelve years, that's significant; it's not an easy job. I appreciate all of the board of supervisors and what they've done over the years. I suspect that having both come from a rural upbringing, Brian and I probably agree on a lot more than people expect us to.   

The main difference between us is our approach. I am more creative in my solutions, and more empathetic. Part of solving any problem is putting yourself in someone else's shoes.

 

EZ: How are you going to get up to speed with all of the issues, such as land use, water, planning?

AM: There is so much to learn and I feel like since I've taken this on, I have just constantly been reading. In November, if you get elected, they send you to CSAC, which is basically an organization that teaches county officials -- you learn how to be a board of supervisors. You go through the class, I think it's a week-long; it's pretty intensive from what I understand. And then you need to take advantage of all the people that are already there, the people who are willing to teach you and help you -- the county employees that know so much. And ask questions always. It's not going to be any different then what I do now. The people that have that information are usually very willing to talk to and share. And so if you take the time to listen and ask them for help, you can get that.

 

EZ: So speaking of reading, you wrote a book for children. Tell me about that.

AM: I did. It's a quick read, although most parents have to read it like 20 or 30 times, and by that time they're pretty much done with it!

It's about spit. My kids were very young and they were in daycare, and they went through this phase where they were spitting. About the same time, my ex-husband had a run in with a millipede that he had decided to pick up. And come to find out, millipedes spit acid as a defense mechanism. It got on his face and so he had to go to the emergency room here in Amador and they were “What did you do? This is the craziest thing we've ever heard of.” So he had some momentary fame. Ultimately he was fine, but he had to wear a patch over his eye. Basically, it got our family talking about spit. And that's where the idea came from. [My book] talks about animals that spit and why children shouldn't [laughter].

It was published by a publisher in Berkeley, and they hired an amazing illustrator in New York who had done some past work with the U.S. Forest Service. Any time you write a children's book, you are then pretty much responsible for also helping to market it. And so you travel around a lot. I had some great experiences. One of them was that I got to read my book at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. So, I had 30 little kids in the Exploratorium and we read the book, and then we all played and had such a good time. My kids were like, “Yeah, this is my mom!”  

 

EZ: Are there more books in you?

AM: There are. I have two other ones I've written but I haven't had the time to pursue publishing them. One of them I feel like I'm pretty much done with. The other I'm still poking around on. So who knows, maybe someday there's the great American novel! [laughter]  Or maybe there are just more books about spit.

 

EZ: Well, I know if you're elected you won't spit!

AM: No, I probably won't get a whole lot of writing [done] either. There are time constraints. It's definitely a full-time job, and I intend to treat it that way.

 

EZ: What contribution would you like to make to our district?

AM: One of the first things I would like to do is to set up an information technology committee. I would like to evaluate countywide how we're using technology and if there are ways we can do it better.

 

EZ: And look at what the priorities become…

AM: Exactly, that is it! I'm sure many people go into public service positions of all kinds with grandiose ideas about what they'll accomplish. But the reality of government is that it is a slow process.  It takes time to implement change, and especially while you're being accountable and transparent. It's not like private industry.  When I was self-employed, I made a decision. I implemented it.  And it was done.  I then directly bore the consequences of that decision’s success or failure.

 

EZ: I wish you well! Is there anything else you would like to add?

AM: I feel like we're on the cusp of getting beyond some of the divisiveness we've seen in the past. People are hungry for an opportunity for us to all work together and to have a cohesive future plan.

 

EZ: Well, best of luck. Thank you very much.

 

 


Paid for by the Committee to Elect Andrea Macon Supervisor D5 2018
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