Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, March 26 @ 3:43 p.m. / Local Government

Starkey's Pitch to Represent Del Norte At NACo Gets Fouled Up; Two Of Her Colleagues Picked Howard Instead

Valerie Starkey

Though one of her colleagues supported her, Valerie Starkey’s pitch to represent Del Norte County at the National Association of Counties fell flat.

The district 2 supervisor argued for equity on the Board, pointing out that Chris Howard is Del Norte’s appointment to the California State Association of Counties, or CSAC, and Darrin Short is part of the Rural County Representatives on the Board.

Chris Howard

“Any one of us should be able to advocate for any one of these issues affecting the county,” Starkey told her colleagues Tuesday. “And we do that by getting involved, by making ourselves available, by going to programs and educating ourselves and bringing that education back to the entire board.”

Howard, who represents District 3 and brought up potential involvement in NACo to his colleagues’ attention, wound up being Del Norte’s representative to the national association by a 3-2 vote. Starkey and District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short dissented.

According to Howard, NACo’s first vice president, Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, is urging all California counties to get involved.

Howard said he hoped the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors would also agree to attend NACo’s Western Region Interstate Conference in May in Mariposa County. It’s the first time in a long time that it’s been held in California, Howard said, urging his colleagues to consider sitting on some of the association’s committees.

Howard especially urged Starkey to consider getting involved in NACo’s advocacy around telecommunications and increasing access to broadband.

However, Howard urged his colleagues to get involved because two of the issues NACo’s western region’s advocacy focuses on — the federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools and Roads programs — affects Del Norte’s general fund.

Last year, at the request of both Howard and Short, Del Norte County donated $37,500 to the National Center for Public Lands Counties, a NACo affiliated nonprofit aiming to keep PILT and SRS off the Congressional chopping block.

On Tuesday, Howard said the PILT allocation for 2024 was authorized on March 9 while Congress has yet to approve this year’s SRS allocation.

“These two pieces generally fluctuate annually, but are under constant attack,” Howard said. “These are under attack because we don’t harvest fiber any longer out of our national forests, in many areas [they] are going up in smoke. As you’ve heard me preach on this dais many times, this is an absolute outrage. There is a way we could be generating dollars out of our forests and public lands and prevent an incredible amount of carbon from going up in the atmosphere every year.”

Despite Starkey’s request, Board Chairman Dean Wilson said Howard is the one who has built a relationship with Gore who is “ascending up to the presidency for NACo.” According to NACo’s website, Gore’s currently the first vice president.

Without those relationships, it’s hard for Del Norte County to be heard on issues it cares about, Wilson said.

One issue Wilson brought up also has to do with the national forests, in particular the amount of timber left behind from the Smith River Complex wildfires last summer.

“The viable marketable timber that is there means a huge tax to us in Del Norte County and there is a very limited amount of time before pests and other disease will hit those marketable woods,” Wilson said. “It is paramount that we push forward the issue that those viable resources that are up there, they be not only sold, but harvested within a short period of time so Del Norte County will have the benefit and also we don’t have the additional fuel remaining up in those areas.”

Before he made the motion to appoint Howard as Del Norte’s representative to NACo, Borges said that much of the issues regarding timber harvesting, PILT and SRS funding occurs within his district.

Starkey argued that deciding who gets to advocate for Del Norte County at the regional, state or national level shouldn’t be based on a supervisor’s district. She also reminded her colleagues that she was a probation officer in Sonoma County for about 30 years before moving back to Del Norte.

“I’m well aware and very familiar with Supervisor Gore,” she said. “I’m familiar with a lot of players down there. Are we besties? Do we talk on the phone? No. But I’ve proven I’m capable of bringing people together and having discussions.”

Short also argued in favor of Starkey’s appointment to NACo, saying Del Norte voters just elected her to another four-year term. Short said Starkey would be just as effective at building and maintaining relationships with representatives from other counties as Howard.


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