In the words of Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors Chairman Terry Withrow, “The state of our county is strong,” but that did not keep the chairman from emphasizing two long term goals in his State of the County address last week: water and a stronger family network.
Withrow took a moment to reflect on the role of local government and arrived at one significant realization: throwing money at a problem isn’t going to make it go away. Withrow promoted a “paradigm shift” in the way issues are dealt with in local government and called for deep-rooted change, the kind that he said could take 10 years to achieve.
Withrow recounted an anecdote from Christmas time when he found a 7-year old boy in a vehicle driven into a field by his drunken father. Computing the expensive charges and system services often utilized by individuals that are taken in by law enforcement, Withrow was especially struck by the influence the event had on the child and how this kind of incident can parlay into the government’s long-term responsibility. Instead of advocating for better programs to help victims of these circumstances, he called for cultural change.
“It is the community that needs to step up and lead,” said Withrow. “We spend all of our money treating the symptoms without treating the disease.”
This disease, in one part, is the lack of structure many individuals face in the county. While Withrow touted the county’s accomplishments in the establishment of mental health facilities, he voiced concerns of local governments over-financing a host of issues shouldered by county residents. Withrow gave a quasi-call to arms for the community, noting that the government cannot be solely responsible for cultivating the social change necessary to diminish the types of experiences he witnessed last December.
“We have good people with the best of intentions trying to band-aid the symptoms, but in the end are limited with what they can do and the disease begins this spread,” he said.
However, not all was somber at the address which also touted several of the County’s accomplishments including reaching agreements with all 15 of the labor unions and the restoration of pay cuts Withrow said employees courageously took during the recession. He also highlighted the successful partnership with the Stanislaus Business Alliance and three notable businesses that laid roots in the county in the past year: Hilmar Cheese Company’s present expansion to Turlock, the Restoration Hardware distribution center in Patterson, and United Kingdom based company Botanics & Organics, Inc.’s decision to pursue its first American venture in Modesto.
Planning for the future was also a theme of Withrow’s speech, especially in regards to water resources. Noting the county’s “strong agriculture economy and heritage,” Withrow said the county needs to continue to assert itself in what he referred to as a statewide “water grab.” The fairly constant supply of the precious substance is something “most counties in the state would love to have” and Withrow advocated intentional steps for lasting results.
“We are all here today and our county has grown and thrived as result of our forefathers,” said Withrow.
In turn calling the present moment “our forefather moment,” Withrow called for collaboration amongst regional partners in light of increasingly strict state laws.
“We must negotiate not as individual agencies, but as a region to enliven an amount of increased flows acceptable to both the state and local entities,” said Withrow. “The potential impact of this water could have staggering effects… We are partners and cannot act as competitors.”
The same goes for local government, he said.
“Let’s listen more to one another and sometimes talk a little less. Let’s listen more to our most important customers: the public,” he said.