A contentious San Luis Obispo County air board struggled Wednesday to decide who would hold the panel’s chairman and vice chairman seats in 2015.
In the end, Supervisor Adam Hill is the new chairman, replacing Atascadero City Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi; Morro Bay Councilman Noah Smukler was elected vice chairman by the narrowest of margins.
Electing new officers is the first task the county Air Pollution Control District board faces during its first meeting of the year. Typically, the vice chairman ascends to the chairmanship.
This made Hill the natural successor to Fonzi, but newly elected Supervisor Lynn Compton was also nominated. Supervisor Debbie Arnold nominated Compton saying that she would be the best person to chair the board because Compton’s district is home to the air district’s biggest controversy — high levels of dust blowing on the Nipomo Mesa from the Oceano Dunes.
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“Most of the district’s pressing issues are in that district,” Arnold said.
Several members of the board questioned whether Compton was experienced enough to be chairman. Compton said she could do the job but the other air board members would need to be patient with her as she learned the ropes.
Supervisor Bruce Gibson said he was shocked the board was even discussing the issue. Protocol calls for the vice chairman to automatically become chairman, he said.
“I think we need to elect our vice chairman and get on with our business,” he said.
Hill was elected chairman by a vote of 7-4 with Fonzi abstaining. Those voting against Hill were Arnold, Compton, Barbara Harmon of Arroyo Grande and Ed Waage of Pismo Beach.
This left the election of the vice chairman. The board is comprised of all five county supervisors and a representative from each of the county’s seven cities. The board’s protocols say the vice chairman should come from one of the cities if the chairman is a county supervisor.
Again, dissension broke out. The board was split between Smukler and Waage.
Mayor Jan Marx of San Luis Obispo said Smukler would be the rightful vice chairman because he has been on the air board longer than Waage and has seniority. Others argued that Waage should be elected because Pismo Beach has never had an officer on the air board.
A motion to elect Waage vice chairman failed in a 6-6 vote. Smukler was elected in a subsequent 7-5 vote. Supervisor Frank Mecham said he supported Waage but voted for Smukler because he had no other choice.