SALINAS — Monterey County supervisors met Jan. 5 for their first meeting since the election, welcoming Wendy Askew not only as the new District 4 supervisor, but also appointing her as the new board chair.
Former board chair Chris Lopez continues as the District 3 supervisor, overseeing South Monterey County.
Askew and Lopez serve on the new configuration of the board, which includes Luis Alejo, John Phillips and Mary Adams, who was appointed vice chair.
“You really did step into a chair at a time when we didn’t know that not only would we be building a plane as we were flying it, but you would be taking off in a plane as your were building it and then flying it,” Askew said to Lopez, as she took over the lead position among the supervisors. “I’ve watched very carefully all of the steps you have taken to increase communication, to bring all of our mayors in, to develop the board briefings that are held regularly, to fight for the regular media briefings and to really look for innovative and effective ways to meet the needs of the community as they continue to arise.”
Phillips also commented on Lopez’s adeptness with technology as having helped the board through the pandemic-related virtual meetings.
“I was really impressed with how our chair led us through that time,” Phillips said. “He was like the roving linebacker, he was everywhere filling the gap.”
Adams likened Lopez to the Energizer Bunny.
“Because of the experience that you brought to the board, I admire the things you were able to accomplish,” Adams said.
“There has been no better person who has managed meeting virtually and pushed for advocacy to make sure we were most accessible during these times, pushing for bilingual translation and sign language translation,” Alejo added. “There’s a lot more we have to do to save lives in our district … you really showed that you could step up to lead and make bold decisions during a time of such challenge for our county.”
Lopez thanked his fellow supervisors for the chance to serve as chair and for the shared role they played in leading the county through 2020 and its challenges. He noted the Census response in Monterey County being higher than usual thanks to community efforts, which during September were as high as 64%.
“Most counties didn’t achieve that, but I’m thankful for the leadership of this board for the investment in the census,” Lopez said, noting the political and financial ramifications for census enumeration and how important it was to get the high response rate.
Lopez also mentioned the challenges of 2020 as well as recognized the community.
“I want to thank our community for standing together,” he said. “I can’t even put the number in how many food drives we participated in, how many mask drives and handouts my staff took on.”
The pandemic came with a switch to virtual meetings, which other board members called a challenge in its own.
“With Zoom, you’re able to attend so many more meetings, there’s no travel time and you hit a switch and next thing you know you’re on another meeting,” Lopez said.
He explained that though 2020 was filled with negatives, he had one personal silver lining in the year, the birth of his son, and the time at home attending virtual meetings meant he could perform new father duties much more easily.
“Having been able to see him grow up and understand more deeply the decisions that I was making and how they would impact his life as he grows up in the Salinas Valley,” Lopez said. “It was a different year and it really left a big mark on my life.”
Overall, Lopez said he was proud of the board’s work.
“The focus was almost solely on Covid, but we achieved a lot as a board,” he said. “I was able to participate in socially distant ribbon cuttings for new roads in my district that needed work for so long.”
Among such projects were the resurfacing of La Gloria and Iverson roads in Gonzales, as well as numerous safety projects.
“We still have challenges ahead of us, but I look forward to continuing to work shoulder-to-shoulder with each one of you to make sure that our community moves forward in the most efficient, effective and safe way possible,” Lopez said, before handing over the virtual gavel to Askew.