When the Yolo County Board of Supervisors voted to consolidate the office of clerk-recorder/registrar of voters with that of the county assessor’s office last fall, it did so largely for the purpose of efficiency — to save money and improve customer service.
Both the assessor and county recorder deal primarily with real property — the assessor with setting property values and the recorder with filing and maintaining records related to land transactions, sales, liens, purchases and easements. The clerk’s office, many said, more or less runs itself. But the sticking point was elections.
That was the outlier, the one that didn’t really belong.
But to remove elections would have required state legislation, something the board chose not to pursue, so elections was consolidated into the same office as everything else.
And that is one of the main reasons Freddie Oakley is running again.
Elected offices held: Yolo County clerk-recorder, 2003-present; Yolo County supervisor, appointed, 1997-99
Occupation: Yolo County clerk-recorder, 2003-present; Yolo County chief deputy clerk-recorder, 2000-03; California legislative director, Brady and Berliner, Washington, D.C., and legislative consultant, Heleyne Meshar and Associates, Sacramento, 1996-2003; director of governmental affairs, California Public Utilities Commission, 1991-96; Yolo County chief deputy public guardian-administrator, 1986-91; research scientist, UC Davis School of Medicine, 1976-82
Education: Bachelor’s degree, physical anthropology, UC Berkeley; master of philosophy, biological anthropology and physiological psychology, Yale University; certified election and registration administrator, Auburn University and the National Election Center
Family: Husband John Oakley, emeritus law professor at UC Davis; grown daughters Adelie Oakley Barry and Antonia Oakley Hirson; four grandchildren
Noteworthy: Nationally recognized expert on elections administration and document security, having testified before U.S. Congress and California Legislature; co-author of several academic papers on election administration with scientists from UC Berkeley and UC Davis; frequent participant in paleontological expeditions, especially in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming; serious student of theology
After 11 years as elected clerk-recorder/registrar of voters, the thought of adding an entirely new department to her duties didn’t give Oakley pause: She declared she would run for office again even before supervisors approved the consolidation.
Now, if she’s elected in June, Oakley will have the rest of the year to get up to speed on the duties and responsibilities of the county assessor’s office, not to mention finding time to take a licensing test, before she has to start preparing the tax roll.
But she’s not overly concerned.
“I don’t think I’m going to have any trouble,” Oakley said.
With a background that includes 11 years as clerk-recorder/registrar of voters, three years before that as a staffer in the office — as well as two years as an appointed county supervisor, five years as deputy public guardian and five more as director of governmental affairs for the California Public Utilities Commission — Oakley believes she’s more than up to the task of learning the rules and responsibilities of the assessor’s office, and adds that she’s “done department budgets for 20 years.”
She notes that her opponent in the June election — senior real property appraiser David Schwenger, who has spent the past seven years in the assessor’s office — would have to take over three new departments if he wins in June.
“I’ll take over one,” Oakley said, adding that, “I don’t know how hard it is to come from the appraiser’s side to this, but I spent three years as a staffer here before running for office.”
That being said, “nothing can prepare you for what’s next in election law,” Oakley added.
And elections is the first reason she cites for running again.
Namely, “the appearance of a nationwide movement to restrict access to the polls.”
“I’m not afraid to jump into controversy and I want a place at the table to stick up for elections the way they ought to be run,” Oakley said.
“I will not be a part of a movement to discourage (voters),” she added. “If California moves that way, I want to be loud. Nationally, I want to be loud.”
Her second reason for seeking election, Oakley said, “is the need for better government in the assessor’s office.”
“There is no theory of why that office exists,” she contended. “What is the justification for it? Who is it supposed to serve? A government office doesn’t exist to appraise property or put on elections. It exists to serve the people, all the people, no matter what their requirements are. You need to figure out how to serve the people.”
One complaint Oakley said she had heard about the assessor’s office is that up until recently, it has been closed on Fridays.
“Now they’re open on Fridays, because I called them out on it,” she said. “But still the assessor doesn’t meet with people. People have to hire lawyers, go through appeals … it’s very expensive.”
And unnecessary, she said.
“The assessor has the authority to sit down and make a deal.”
Oakley believes 90 percent of disputes could be solved simply by sitting down and talking; by “treating people like neighbors.”
“If a neighbor comes to talk to you about noise the kids are making in the swimming pool, you don’t shut the door in their face and say, ‘We’re closed on Fridays,’ ” Oakley added.
“I don’t see a division between government and people. My department is wide-open — everyone can come in and have a tour. There are plenty of members of the public who don’t like the way I do my job and that’s fine and they can come in and talk to me,” Oakley said. “I’ve engaged in a lot of those discussions — these are my neighbors and I work for them. I owe them the courtesy of listening to what they have to say.”
Another concern Oakley says she’s heard from constituents is about the lack of itemization on tax bills.
“If you’re a farmer, you’re taxed on your equipment,” Oakley said. “But your bill is not itemized. You could be being taxed on stuff you could have dumped five years ago.
“It’s not a very complicated thing to make a list,” she added. “It all flows from not having a theory of government of how do we best serve the people.”
One of the areas Oakley herself has been most visible to the public over the years has been on the clerk’s side of the office.
As clerk, Oakley is responsible for issuing marriage licenses, and up until last year, was limited by law to issuing those licenses only to heterosexual couples, something she strongly disagreed with.
So for many years, she issued “certificates of inequality” on Valentine’s Day instead.
“Based on your choice of spouse,” the certificates said, “I may not issue a license to marry to you, and whereas I am unable to divine any legitimate governmental purpose in the regulation of your marriage partner’s gender, now therefore I issue this certificate of inequality to you because your choice of marriage partner displeases some people whose displeasure is, apparently, more important than principles of equality.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last summer upending California’s ban on same-sex marriage brought an end to those certificates.
Oakley’s bottom line for why she should be re-elected is simple: “I’m a very good manager,” she said. “I just am. I run three problem-free departments for this county and if I win, I’ll run four.”
She is quick to credit her staff for making that possible, including her chief deputy in the recorder’s office, her son-in-law Jeffrey Berry, who she calls her “budget guru.”
Oakley said she knows there is a concern about that from her opponent — that her son-in-law serves as her deputy — but says simply, “He is the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve never made a secret of it.”
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.