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On the campaign trail for county supervisor, Ron Roberts and Stephen Whitburn have more often debated what’s been done in the past and downplayed what they’d do in the future.

As the incumbent, Roberts has touted the county’s financial health and programs funded on his watch. He’s steered away from explaining which problems face the county and how he would address them if reelected.

As the challenger, Whitburn has echoed criticisms, such as lagging fire protection and the supervisors’ control of a controversial grants program. He has generally avoided outlining what he would do differently. Whitburn’s campaign has focused more on criticizing Roberts than proposing new ideas.

Each candidate has left voters knowing little about what they would do once elected to represent the county’s urban core. Their campaign websites provide more biographical details than specific proposals.

So we sent the candidates a survey last week, asking them to spell out how they would address a wide range of issues once elected to office. Even then, Roberts and Whitburn continued to stick with their campaign strategies.

Here’s what they had to say about social services, the homeless and the county’s shortcomings. We’ll have more shortly answering other challenges they’d face if elected.

What was the county’s biggest failure in the past five years and what do you plan to do about it?

Roberts: No one anticipated the depth and length of the current recession and the resulting chaos in state government. If county finances had been as precarious as the city’s or other local agencies, the resulting dislocations would have impacted services provided to every county resident. Fortunately, we did not commit one-time revenues to on-going operations or drain our reserves, so we’ve been able to maintain public safety and other essential services. Going forward, we must remain innovative in conducting county business so limited taxpayer dollars are used efficiently and effectively.

Whitburn: Ron Roberts and the board failed to learn from the 2003 wildfire and left our families vulnerable. When the 2007 wildfire broke out, we should have been better prepared, but the board played politics with our lives. San Diego had more wildfire deaths in the last decade than anywhere in the country. In addition, the Great Recession has cost San Diegans their jobs and homes. When the county had the opportunity to get thousands of people back to work through an innovative federal program, it declined to apply. That was a huge failure and it will never happen again on my watch.

What would you do as supervisor to address concerns involving the homeless population?

Roberts: Beside the $175 million we spend annually on homeless programs, our new partnerships with the United Way and Common Ground are multi-year programs that hold promise for better, more effective provision of services. Both offer a systematic, and proven, way of breaking the cycle of homelessness. If the city finally approves a permanent shelter, we will work with them to improve services.

Whitburn: Local governments should be working in tandem to address homelessness. The devastating economic environment has exacerbated the problem. We must redouble our efforts to create jobs. The county has failed to apply for more than $10 million in federal funding that would have gone to local businesses to hire people who are unemployed. Those monies could have created thousands of jobs for San Diegans and gotten people off the streets.

Do you believe it’s your role as a supervisor to help create jobs and if so, how would you do that? If not, please explain why.

Roberts: Yes. A recent $25 million grant the county received for a five-year, welfare-recipient job training program for healthcare was the nation’s largest. We have received $127 million in [federal stimulus] funds and applied for more. Keeping taxes low on good-paying industries and taking advantage of depressed construction costs to build the infrastructure for the next generation will help.

Whitburn: Absolutely. The board should be doing everything it can to create jobs and not just provide funding for job training. As discussed above, Ron Roberts and the county failed to apply for more than $10 million in federal funding that would have gone to local businesses to hire the unemployed. It was reported that the program added more than 30,000 jobs in California, but none in San Diego because the board failed to apply.

Do you believe social services need to be improved? If so, how? If not, why not?

Roberts: Social services encompass about $2.8 billion in annual spending. The Health and Human Services Agency works hard to address our diverse community’s evolving needs. I’m proud we are exceeding the aggressive food stamp goals for seniors and children we set 18 months ago and serving as a model of innovation.

Whitburn: The county charter states that it has a responsibility to provide health services and in these difficult times it’s more important than ever. Instead of easing access, the county has added layers of difficulty and now thousands of San Diegans aren’t getting the services they need.

Make three other promises to voters. If elected, I would:

Roberts:

1) Move aggressively on building infrastructure for the next 30 years, providing thousands of jobs in the process, and using one-time sources that don’t compromise essential services.

2) Build a magnificent bay-front park for future generations of San Diego families and visitors alike.

3) Maintain the county’s Triple A credit rating to ensure the next generation is not burdened by the kind of debts now crippling other governments.

Whitburn:

1) Not take any gifts, period.

2) Improve access to and delivery of social services.

3) End the abuse of the $115 million political slush fund.

Please contact Keegan Kyle directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

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