The Tribune’s recent reporting of the strange and sad events that unfolded Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting warrants some clarification and elaboration.
The actual lead should have read: “Supervisor Frank Mecham gave up his month-long chairmanship of the board to Supervisor Debbie Arnold and COLAB.”
After some soul-searching, I realize that my own mistakes are partly to blame for this unfortunate outcome. I owe Supervisor Mecham an apology. I put him in a position where he needed to exercise some political courage.
I owe Supervisor Adam Hill an apology as well. I put him in a position where he was subjected to an ugly partisan smear.
My first mistake came on Jan. 5, when I forgot to take public comment at the swearing-in ceremony and election of the chair and vice-chair. Neither the script I was given, nor the formal agenda, listed a comment period. I’ve been around long enough that I should have caught and corrected that oversight.
The swearing-in is always a wonderful demonstration of the orderly transfer of political authority in our democracy. Similarly, the election of the chair and vice chair had for many years been ceremonial and routine, rotating among all districts. Honestly, I can’t recall comments being offered on the election, or the swearing-in, before 2013.
Since then, however, Supervisor Arnold, encouraged by her COLAB coaches and cheerleaders, has decided to thoroughly politicize what was once a collegial, nonpartisan yearly rite of passage. For some reason, I thought she might not do it this year. How silly of me.
My second mistake was forgetting that what should be a nonevent would be of particular interest to the partisans who now regularly attend our meetings to abet Ms. Arnold’s politicking.
The selection of Supervisor Mecham as chair was routine and unanimous (he had last chaired in 2010). Since Supervisor Hill had chaired in 2011 (former District 5 Supervisor Jim Patterson chaired in 2012), Supervisor Hill was the logical choice for vice chair. That was approved with little discussion. Only Supervisor Arnold objected.
When my failure to open public comment was pointed out, we scheduled a comment period to correct the error for the earliest possible meeting, Jan. 13. We took an hour of public comment, and thus cured the apparent Brown Act violation.
I was quite surprised when, at that meeting, Supervisor Mecham decided to place on a future agenda a complete re-voting of the chair and vice chair elections.
In privately explaining his reasoning to me later, Supervisor Mecham said he was merely trying to satisfy and calm some members of the public who had demanded the re-vote. Then he looked me in the eye and assured me he wouldn’t change his votes.
The unfortunate consequences of my mistakes became clear when it took three weeks to get that item on an agenda — Jan. 20 had no meeting scheduled and Jan. 27 was full of important water discussions.
During that time, COLAB, the Tea Party and miscellaneous activists mounted a particularly vicious campaign to change Supervisor Mecham’s vote. I think the rancor was further fueled when Supervisor Mecham spoke and voted in support of Supervisor Hill for chair of the Air Pollution Control District Board.
I understand Supervisor Mecham received dozens of offensive phone calls, many nasty emails and even had scathing radio ads aimed against him. These must have been what he referenced as “political crap” in an unguarded comment from the dais Tuesday.
I guess the pressure eventually got to him — he made some comment about a “problem” that he could “solve” by giving up the chair. And so he did, throwing Supervisor Hill under the bus in the process.
I’m puzzled that all this vitriol was generated over the election of the board’s vice chair. That says a lot about what some people think is the important business of our board. And we do have a lot of important work to do on many fronts — water, criminal justice, mental health, homelessness, health care and our airport, to name a few.
I wish I could share Supervisor Mecham’s faith that, with COLAB and the Tea Party now appeased, we can have the rational discussions we need to. I fear, however, that partisanship will be playing a central role in policymaking as we move forward from here. We actually saw that earlier on Tuesday, when the board majority failed to take meaningful action on the water crisis in North County.
In any case, Frank Mecham, I’m sorry that my procedural oversight exposed you to this bullying and that you chose to abandon your chairmanship.
Adam Hill, I’m sorry that mistakes I made in a rancid political atmosphere caused you to miss your turn as board chair.