On Thursday, Jan. 11, Tom Wheeler kicked-off his first public town hall meeting of the new year with an array of speakers addressing on-going and up-and-coming issues.
The highlights included Wheeler’s hopes for his board chairmanship, Madera County’s new voting system, news on the much-delayed development of the three hotels on highway 41 in Oakhurst, and a report from Sheriff Jay Varney.
Tom Wheeler opened the meeting announcing his chairmanship of the board of supervisors and his hope to bring back trust and transparency between the community and the board in 2018. He acknowledged the public’s distrust and confusion with the board and budget spending.
Wheeler said “my focus will be on thwarting misinformation and falsehood on the board’s budget spending. I want everyone to trust us.” Wheeler continued, “It’s really important to us for the public to understand how we have to spend money and we want to let the people see the hard decisions we have to make.”
Wheeler will now have the board meet once a week (every Tuesday) and all meetings will be televised through the Madera County’s Board of Supervisors website. Wheeler also announced that he will take the board meetings on the road, including Oakhurst, so the public can witness the board’s budget decisions and engage .
New voting system
Madera County Clerk-Recorder & Registrar of Voters, Rebecca Martinez, the longest running clerk in the state of California, was excited to announce Madera County’s new voting system.
Every registered voter in Madera County will be mailed a ballot 29 days before the June 5 primary election. Voters will have multiple options in regards to delivery of their completed ballots.
Voters will be able to mail them back to the county, drop them off at a 24-hour ballot box, or 11 days before and up to the election drop them off at a polling center. If a voter would prefer to vote in person there will be a voting center in the Oakhurst area, open 11 days before the election and open seven days of the week.
In addition, starting three days before the election, four additional Vote Centers will be available (specific locations will be announced at a later date) providing the ability to vote in-person utilizing new ballot marking machines. The machines will print a paper ballot for review before the voter deposits the ballot in the ballot box. Voters who prefer to vote on a traditional paper ballot will still be able to.
Community & economic development
Director of Community and Economic Development Matt Treber, discussed his department’s role in helping people take care of vehicles that no longer work, tire dumping and abandoned homes in the area.
When asked by a concerned citizens about the status and safety of the delayed three hotel project on highway 41, Treber spoke about the development’s slow movement.
“The project has had many on-going hurdles and there are many hurdles left,” Treber said. He reassured the community that the last six to nine months have progressed the quickest to date, since building permits were issued more than four years ago.
An audience member pointed out that structural frames of the hotels have begun to look tired and weathered and potentially unsafe. Treber assured everyone they are going through rigorous safety tests, numerous planks have been replaced and that the manufacturer of all products have been out to stamp their safety approval on their products that remain.
These tests will be ongoing and will only be completed when the project is completed. Treber ended his address stating, “at the end of the day our goal is to have safe hotels.”
Sheriff Jay Varney addressed the crowd about theft and burglary’s “steady uptick”in the Mountain Area. The department is having difficulty returning valuables to victims and encourages everyone to find a way to make their valuable items identifiable. If there is no way to log the item or mark it, Varney suggests photographing valuables with a camera or phone.
In light of recent events in Madera, the sheriff reminded the crowd of the Operation Lost and Found program that is free to the public. Through generous donation the Sheriff’s Office offers wrist and ankle tracking devices for care workers and loved ones who are tasked with the responsibility of watching after someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. For more information about the program, call the Sheriff’s Substation in Oakhurst (642-3201) or visit their website (www.madera-county.com /sheriff).
Environmental Health Director Dexter Marr, thanked the community for their patience through a long stint of “no burn days.” Marr said due to one of the worst low pressure air systems he has seen in the community (beginning in mid- Dec. through Jan. 7) burns were prohibited because of their impact on air quality.
The night ended in a new format. Typically the audience is allowed to ask questions after an individual speaker addresses the audience. It was brought to Wheeler’s attention this format does not allow everyone to be heard due to time pressures. Wheeler’s solution is what he called, “a farmer’s market type of event.” Once all speakers conclude their presentations they are available to the public for the last half hour to personally address individual’s questions and concerns.