John Peschong elected chair of SLO County Board of Supervisors

San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong administers the oath of office to San Luis Obispo County Supervisors, from left, John Peschong, Debbie Arnold and Adam Hill.
San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong administers the oath of office to San Luis Obispo County Supervisors, from left, John Peschong, Debbie Arnold and Adam Hill. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The conservative majority on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors passed over 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill and awarded the chairmanship to John Peschong on Tuesday. Hill was once again elected vice chair.

Supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton raised concerns about Hill’s treatment of the public and his fellow board members.

“I really believe we need a chairperson who’s respectful to all the other board members,” Arnold said.

Peschong, a newcomer to the board, pledged to do so.

“I will not discount minority voices on this board,” he said. “That is my pledge to you, and that is my pledge to this board.”

The Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB) had been lobbying for the appointment of newly elected conservative Peschong, who represents District 1.

COLAB’s Mike Brown urged the board Tuesday to elect a chair who can be a strong leader for policy reform.

“Please don’t let this hard-fought opportunity go to waste,” he urged.

More than 30 speakers, including current and former elected officials, lobbied the board before the vote.

Hill’s supporters urged the board to continue rotating the position among the five supervisors. Some said it would be a slap in the face to District 3 voters, who re-elected Hill in November, to skip over him, and pointed out that the board is supposed to be a nonpartisan body that represents all citizens of the county.

“Be an example of civil government that doesn’t fall victim to partisan politics,” urged San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon. Former Mayor Jan Marx also spoke in support of Hill, as did Pismo Beach Councilman Erik Howell.

Former Republican Congresswoman Andrea Seastrand and former county Supervisor Mike Ryan were among those who sided with Peschong.

Ryan told the board “there had never really been a rotation” of the chairmanship, and he questioned Hill’s ability to represent the entire county.

“Mr. Hill got elected in the 3rd District somehow,” he said, “but he has shown great disdain for people in the North County.”

Other Peschong supporters also pointed out that the rotation is tradition — not a rule — and several criticized Hill for rudeness; one speaker urged the board not to reward a bully by giving him a bully pulpit.

A Hill supporter countered that those objections had been raised during the election, and voters had discounted them.

Hill and Supervisor Bruce Gibson — the lone liberals on the board — said the decision is a blow to collegiality.

“This is not Congress and this is not the Legislature,” Hill said. “There’s only five of us.”

“I’m oscillating between deeply saddened and highly outraged,” Gibson said.

While the chair of the Board of Supervisors has only one vote, that individual sets the tone of the meetings and often is regarded as the primary spokesperson for the board.

Hill served as vice chair last year, and it’s been longstanding tradition for the vice chair to be named chair the following year. It’s also been normal practice to rotate the chairmanship, so each district’s supervisor takes a turn every fifth year. Occasionally, the order gets disrupted. For example, newly elected supervisors sometimes ask to skip a turn so they can get familiar with the job.

This was not the first time that Hill was passed over for a leadership position.

In 2015, he was initially appointed vice chair — which would have made him the obvious choice for chair in 2016 — but there was controversy surrounding the appointment. Among other concerns, some members of the public believed Arnold had been denied a turn at the helm because she was not part of the “good ol’ boys” club.

In a subsequent vote, then-Supervisor Frank Mecham moved that Arnold be appointed chair and Compton vice chair — a motion that passed 3-2.