It may just be a coincidence that two challengers to county Clerk/Recorder Gregory Diaz surfaced after his recent dust-up with the Board of Supervisors, but I doubt it.
Diaz ran unopposed four years ago and appeared to be sailing toward another four-year term last month when he appeared before the supervisors to request $300,000 to test drive the state’s new vote-by-mail system in the June primary. He even brought along Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who praised the new Voter’s Choice Act as a cost-effective way to get more people to vote. The supervisors were not impressed.
They objected to getting the supplemental budget request five months before the election, and challenged the cost estimate. While Diaz’s staff had briefed the supervisors about the program, no cost estimates were available then and Diaz couldn’t offer specifics when pressed by Supervisor Ed Scofield.
Diaz was told to take his request to the county budget subcommittee. Everybody eventually agreed on a sum of $258,000, which was approved at last week’s supervisors meeting. Diaz did not come out looking good in the process, which may be why he’s now being challenged by Mary Ann Davis, events manager at The Union, and Elise Strickler, an analyst in the county manager’s office.
Davis has no experience in the field but expresses a desire to serve, while Strickler worked in Diaz’s office for four years before taking her current county position. Diaz said in an interview Friday on KNCO that he will emphasize his experience in the election campaign, but his record is hardly blemish-free.
Some vote-by-mail ballots issued by Diaz’s office during the 2016 general election were missing a page listing nine of 17 state propositions and three local measures. “The pages just didn’t get stuffed in the ballot by the printer,” explained Sandy Sjoberg, registrar of voters, who’s usually trotted out when there’s bad news to report.
Management of outside vendors has been a continuing issue during Diaz’s tenure. Ballots for the June 2016 primary were mailed a week late because the printer was late getting them verified. A mailing was also delayed in 2014 due to a printing error.
His recent run-in with the supervisors shows a surprising lack of political acumen for somebody who has been dealing with the board for over 10 years, but Diaz got off to a shaky start in the job when an attempt to change software vendors triggered a lawsuit.
After Diaz took office in June 2007, he decided to drop AtPac of Auburn for Aptitude Solutions of Florida to provide the software the clerk’s office uses to store and retrieve documents.
AtPac sued, alleging Diaz exposed its propriety information to Aptitude in violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The case featured such zany incidents as addressing mail to Diaz’s predecessor and an effort by the county’s counsel to depose a guy who was dead.
Then there was local attorney Barry Pruett, who represented AtPac when the county changed vendors and ended up running against Diaz in the 2010 election for clerk/recorder. Pruett, who received a $1,500 donation from AtPac’s owner, lost the race. The county finally settled the case for $1.9 million, most of it insurance money.
When Diaz ran for reelection in 2014, he announced a “blue ribbon” reelection committee to scare off anybody who was thinking about challenging him. It worked. He hasn’t announced such a committee this time, possibly because he thought his reelection would be a cake walk. Maybe it will be, but Diaz may also have to answer some tough questions this time around.
COVERAGE BIAS?: The Union’s leading local critic (no points if you guess who I’m talking about) has called for smelling salts because Davis works for the paper and might create a conflict-of-interest in The Union’s coverage of the campaign.
There is a precedent for this: Sally Harris was The Union’s business manager when she first ran for the Nevada City Council in the oughts, and I don’t recall any complaints about the paper’s coverage then.
I suspect there won’t be any complaints this time either, except from the obvious source. If anything, The Union’s coverage may actually be unfair to Davis because you can bet the paper’s editorial staff will bend over backwards to avoid any real or perceived bias. They know everybody will be watching.