The Kern County Commission on Aging covers a lot of ground. According to Kris Grasty, the commission rotates meeting locations, with the Senior Centers in Inyokern and Ridgecrest, each serving as meeting locations roughly every other year.


Monday it was Ridgecrest's turn. The COA met there, but not before Kern County Mick Gleason spoke to the seniors. Gleason's talk was upbeat, emphasizing his contention that a proactive attitude could turn Kern County's budgetary, water issues and other problems into opportunities for solutions and even improvement.


“We've got all kinds of issues and we could stay focused on those issues all day long, but the reality is when you are faced with challenges if you have the courage to meet those challenges and come up with ideas and work to solve the problems in ways that are meaningful to the whole community, typically you find solutions that improve the quality of everybody's life,” Gleason said. He added that he thinks Eastern Kern County is poised for major growth, due to resources such as the aerospace industry, particularly at the Mojave Air and Space Port.


Gleason said that although the county is looking at its second year of budget cuts due to the volatility in the price of oil, he thinks reductions made will cut “fat or governmental bloat” without obvious impact to residents.


“This year our budget is tough,” he said. “We are right now looking at a budget that will minimize impact to constituents. I think the impact that you are going to feel to most parts of your life is going to be seamless and I don't think you are going to notice it.”


He also took questions from the nearly full room.


“Does Kern County have any role in the casino negotiations?” someone asked.


“That is under the jurisdiction of the city,” Gleason replied. “The only way that we would have anything to do with that would be permitting of the land.” He added that permitting issues would not have room for negotiation. “It would be based on our rules.”


“Does the county have a position on the casino?” was the follow up.


Gleason replied, “No.”


“Have you ever dealt with a budget as difficult as this one?” someone else asked.


“No,” Gleason replied. After a pause he said, “my own. I've been broke about 30 years.” After everyone stopped laughing, he added, “this budget really is difficult because of the dramatic collapse of the oil industry in Kern County. Last year was a tough year” because of across the board five percent cuts.
Gleason said he is optimistic because of what he called the consistently high quality of the department heads in Kern County.


“We are going to be a kick-butt county,” he said. “When we come out of this we are going to be the best county in the state of California.”


In response to a question about solar energy, Gleason said the county is working with the Navy to develop something called a solar overlay for the entire Indian Wells Valley.


“We are going to target certain specific parcels of property that are more attractive than others so that people that own those properties instead of pumping water to grow trees or to grow whatever they grow monetize their property by having solar. It's an attractive solution that solves two problems, creates more energy and helps us reduce our water usage.”


He added that any plans would have to respect Navy requirements involving high speed aircraft flying overhead.


Gleason offered another example of a problem potentially leading to improvement. The closure of Pinney Pool could potentially lead to a much bigger and better aquatic center, a plan suggested by the Indian Wells Valley Economic Development Corporation, he said.


One final question brought much good natured laughter.


“Where are you from?” someone asked Gleason. “You have a delightful accent.”


“I don't have an accent. You all do,” Gleason replied, before saying he hails from Boston.


Grasty recognized Gleason for his contributions and senior center volunteers and staff were also recognized.


Aaron Flucker of Aging & Adult Services thanked the staff for their hard work and dedication. “We don't get out here very often, but we do want you to know that we do think about you and all the work that you do.”