Local News

Tuesday, Nov 27 2012 05:00 AM

Hospital director race still undecided

Three weeks have passed since many local incumbent political officers were triumphantly celebrating their re-elections. And while most races have clear winners, the outcome of one local race still hangs in the balance.

What appeared to be a razor-thin victory for Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District incumbent director Bill Steele on the night of Nov. 6 has slowly evolved into a slight half percentage-point lead for challenger Henry Schaeffer.

According to the latest unofficial final results from the Kern County Elections Division on Nov. 19, Schaeffer led by a narrow margin of 73 votes. NOTE: This was as published in print on Nov. 27; after deadline the county issued an updated report and the vote difference is now 116, with Schaeffer still ahead.

However, that could change, as Elections Division Chief Karen Rhea reported her office is still processing thousands of county wide provisional ballots that remained uncounted as of Wednesday last week.

The reason, Rhea said, is a large number of damaged ballots.

"We are working on processing those votes so that they can be counted, they just need to be duplicated and run through the machine," she said. "We know people are anxious and are working hard to complete our count."

The uncertainty has also unsettled both Schaeffer and Steele, who are still cautious of declaring victory or defeat.

Steele did however, offer his concession at the hospital's Nov. 14. board meeting, carefully congratulating Schaeffer on a hard fought, and well-funded campaign.

"My 20 years as a board member may come to an end in December, and it's been a great experience not only sitting on the board, but broadening my horizons and educating oneself in what will work to make healthcare work for us," he said. "To this extent, I congratulate Mr. Schaffer on his election to replace myself."

For the moment, Schaeffer is not celebrating, but stated he is ready to get to work, confirming his main priority is focusing on the plans to build a new hospital in the Capital Hills area just north of Highway 58 at Voyager Dr.

"I'd like to see a place that is affordable and accessible, but I am not sure we can do that at the current site," he said.

And while the director-elect did not say he opposed the new hospital plans, he did admit he is concerned about the development costs and accessibility of the slated location.

"Once a Wal-Mart on Tucker Road, and increased train traffic from the proposed double-tracking take place, there could be access issues," Schaeffer said. "Our focus should be to build a hospital that is easily accessible and offers the best treatment for Tehachapi."

Meanwhile, county elections officials have until Dec. 4 to finish processing ballots and until Dec. 7 to report their certified election results to the California Secretary of State, but Rhea said she anticipates completing all counts by Thursday or Friday of this week.

"This is normal," Rhea said. "Last year's official vote count took 28 days."

The Tehachapi News will be watching for the final count and will publish results online at tehachapinews.com as soon as they are available.

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