BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Who gets to work with Kern County? That was the discussion raised at the Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday after supervisors moved not to contract with two local organizations based on what supervisors said were political messages for defunding the police.
During the meeting, Chairperson Leticia Perez said the Kern County Department of Public Health was in its eleventh hour to team up with local organizations to promote COVID-19 outreach when supervisors chose not to support the contracts.
The contracts were slated to offer $1.2 million from a state grant to Building Healthy Communities, a community-based nonprofit. Another firm, Adelante Strategies, had expected to receive $250,000 from the same grant source to conduct a multicultural marketing campaign in support of Building Healthy Communities Kern.
However, in an unexpected turn, Supervisor Zach Scrivner said he would not support the contract based on what he said was a "political agenda" by the firms in support of defunding the Kern High School Police Department and the Bakersfield Police Department. Scrivner cited 10 Facebook posts he said were posted by the organization over June and July.
“I think how our sheriff’s department, our deputies and our law enforcement would feel if the county of Kern contracts with an organization that is calling for their defunding,” Scrivner said during the meeting.
Scrivner was joined by supervisors Gleason and Maggard in opting not to support the contracts.
Perez said she supported Scrivner and Gleason in their views to remain politically unbiased but was concerned about whether the board holds every contractor to the same scrutiny brought up Tuesday.
"What behavior is politically acceptable to you and to this board and to others? BBecause I look at people who are interested in this money, they are extremely controversial, extremely partisan, extremely ideological, which is their right to be," Perez said. "I'm going to want a full political analysis on any group that comes before here and wants some money from Kern."
Supervisor Mick Gleason furthered the conversation, saying the board should make it their policy not to do business with any nonprofit organization that takes a political position. "If they want to do business with us, they have to be apolitical and be focused on the task at hand," Gleason said.
Public Health Direct Matt Constantine said there is some room to navigate the contracts, given the unexpected response from supervisors, but the matter is a timely one.
Kern County currently sits with a positivity rate of 5.5% for Kern's bottom quartile of census tracts. In order to move into the next tier, Constantine said we have to get below 5%.
Public Health had hoped to use Building Healthy Communities and Adalente Strategies to reach these goals.
Reyna Olaguez, communications manager for Building Healthy Communities Kern and president and CEO of Adelante Strategies, spoke out during the meeting, saying that the matter of contracts at hand regards public health and not politics.
“It’s just really sad to see that if we don’t stand with your views when it comes to politics, we’re out of being considered for this contract that’s really aimed at encouraging our communities to slow the spread of coronavirus and to open Kern County fast," Olaguez said.
Olaguez also brought up that her firm, Adelante Strategies, had just completed a contract for the County of Kern handling its media campaign for the 2020 Census.
"This is a public health issue. We need to keep politics out of this because it's our most vulnerable communities our organization is connected to," Olaguez said.
For now, the contracts are still up for grabs as Public Health searches for organizations to help Kern County move closer to reopening.