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Check The Milk Carton

I’ve taken some time away from my blog for a few reasons.  I’ve been a bit busy with “work” writing, and by the time I’m done with that, the last thing I want to do is write some more.

The larger reason, though, is a bit more personal.  As an observer of community interactions, I’ve developed some particular views on people, on positions and the intersection of both.  It would be dishonest to say I am “neutral,” but I think it would be similarly dishonest to say I am a committed member of a group that advocates one side over the other.  I lean, but I don’t believe I fall.

This has made it a bit difficult for me to keep a clear line of sight as I attend the monthly meetings, read the mountain of documentation that surround the major issues, and have conversations with friends and acquaintances around town.  So, I took a few months off from the blog but still followed along as things progressed.

And boy, have things progressed!


For those who read from afar, a quick description of how the Cambria Community Services District is structured.

We have a Board of Directors consisting of 5 elected positions. Each elected term is four years, and those terms are staggered with the thought of keeping some level of continuity as terms expire or seats otherwise become vacant.

There are several ways to fill positions that become vacant during a term:

  • A special election can be called.
  • An interim appointment can be made by the remaining board members.
  • Should all attempts to make an appointment in this process fail, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors can make the appointment.

Depending on when in the term a vacancy occurs, the seat will be on the ballot during the next election cycle.

All the options have positives and negatives, and in  Cambria, each method has vocal supporters and detractors.

Now It’s Time, To Say Goodbye…

Long-serving Director Michael (nobody calls him Mickey) Thompson announced that he was resigning his position effective the end of August 2017. Director Thompson’s adult life has been dedicated to public service, pre-dating his time in Cambria. He has been an active member of this community, with a broad and loyal base of friends and supporters. In addition to his service to the CCSD, he has been a contributing member of organizations ranging from the Chamber of Commerce, Cambria American Legion Post 432 and more.  He has been a faithful supporter of the Sustainable Water Facility, as well as a strong advocate for sensible management of balanced growth and environmental stewardship.  (Begin howls of disagreement here…) Over his long career of service, he developed a low-key but clear way of expressing his positions on important issues. He has also demonstrated an open-minded and fair approach to listening and adjusting his views based on new input or information.

His term runs through November of 2018, so the seat was eligible for appointment. The decision was made to follow the previous practice and have the sitting directors select a replacement by unanimous vote. The legally required process was followed; post a notice of vacancy, call for interested candidates, provide an application form and schedule a special meeting where the next phase of the process would play out.

A Baker’s Dozen

Thirteen candidates submitted applications.  A read through all of the applications revealed a healthy list of desirable skills and experiences, many in the public sector, and some with previous leadership roles on the CCSD Board.

By the time the meeting began only a dozen candidates had remained under active consideration. There was just one woman on the slate, which, given the makeup of the town and the number of women who are very involved in the community was a bit of a surprise.

“Let’s Get Ready To Grumble!!!”

From the first gavel, it was obvious that the meeting was not going to go very smoothly. There were no clear guidelines that would cover the entire process and there were no objective criteria the Directors could use to fairly and equally “score” candidates.  In reality, each member of the board brought personal preferences and biases to the process, and without more structure that ultimately ruled the decision-making process.

The “interview”  process had been used in the past, but with a much smaller group of candidates. With a dozen people to work through it became clear that it would be at best difficult to give each candidate, and each director, a decent amount of time to thoroughly explore even a minor few positions. Successive applicants, having heard the previous questions and answers, would have the advantage of adjusting their responses based on what they just saw and heard.

In This Corner…

Two of the sitting directors – Jim Bahringer and Greg Sanders – expressed views that advocated appointing someone with positions similar to Mr. Thompson’s, the rationale being that he was elected with a significant margin, and the citizens who spoke with their votes should have their positions sustained for the remainder of the term.  Others on the board had different views.

In That Corner…

President Rice pointed out that over time, Director Thompson’s positions evolved and would likely have continued to evolve should he have served his entire term.  Director Farmer pointed to the most recent election, where he was selected over an incumbent, as a sign that community sentiments had changed significantly since the 2014 vote, and those sentiments should be taken into account.

In The Peanut Gallery…

A third position, which makes sense to me, is to appoint someone to fill the vacancy who brings a new energy and outlook, different experiences and a philosophy that is inclusive and open to input but can stand firm on major decisions.  More importantly, the appointee should have a set of skills that would add value to the body, rather than just appeasing any given segment of the overall town.

Round One

The candidates make their statements.  Each established their positions, using different techniques from a classic recitation of resumes to showy flourishes that played to the crowd but didn’t land with much impact.  The rounds progressed, with various combinations of probing jabs and slick defenses.  After a while, the judges decided to narrow the field, with each member offering their choices.  Those that met the on-the-fly threshold of multiple mentions went on to the round of six. At this point, I have to switch to a different sports metaphor.

The Ties That Bind…(Apologies to Bruce Springsteen)

After eliminating 6 of the 12 candidates, the board continued their attempt to select a new teammate.  Rather than retelling the whole excruciating story, I’ll go with the Warner Wolfe version. (If you want you can “go to the videotape” HERE)

“Bahringer opens with a strong nomination -picking a seasoned veteran to join the starting five.  He makes a strong case for his pick, citing a 17-year career on the CCSD team as a major strength.  Sanders nods and agrees, adding a second.  Crunch time – the ball is passed around the court, and ultimately the candidate is REJECTED!  The crowd is getting into it now.”

The process continues, with nominations, discussions, and rejections.  Each round ended as the first had – Bahringer and Sanders on one side, Rice and Farmer on the other.  The exchanges got hotter, the arguments more pointed, and the language grew more forceful.  “Come on man, take this seriously!”  “I’m taking this very seriously, Mister!”  Tough stuff!

In the end, seven votes were taken, seven scores of 2-2.  Nobody wins.

Let’s Do It Again!

With no selection made, the board agreed to have a second special meeting to try again to fill the seat.  We’ll take a look at that in our next episode.

Oh, Yeah…

Did I mention that Greg Sanders announced that he was resigning his seat at the end of October?