Mecham’s abdication cheered, chided
February 6, 2015
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
A bombshell announcement at Tuesday’s county supervisors’ board meeting has two of its members seething, two others grappling with their abrupt elevation to leadership stature, and its former chairman content with his unprecedented action.
First District Supervisor Frank Mecham voluntarily relinquished his chairmanship — won only last month — to fellow board member Debbie Arnold and nominated new supervisor Lynn Compton as vice-chairman. Mecham’s motion passed 3-2, with Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson sharply dissenting.
The following day, Gibson testily confronted Mecham in a county office to voice his wrath.
Mecham downplayed the verbal dust-up while acknowledging that Gibson “said what he was thinking.”
Hill was elected to become vice-chair of the board at a January meeting, but because of a procedural error — no public comment on the election issue was heard by the board — a Brown Act violation was confirmed and the matter was brought back for board consideration.
Gibson would later say he “forgot to take public comment” at the meeting.
That set the stage for Mecham’s emotional explanation of his decision, which he said was the result of weeks of consideration and was an attempt to quell growing dissension on the board — much of it centered around the public behavior of Hill.
“To me, the way to fix [the board’s fractioning] was to get the board out of the situation,” Mecham said Friday.
That didn’t stop Gibson from accusing Mecham of “taking the easy way out,” a comment he made minutes after being hit with the proposal.
Then, in a commentary written for the local daily newspaper, Gibson said of Mecham, “I put him in a position where he needed to exercise some political courage… I guess the pressure eventually got to him.”
That didn’t sit well with Mecham, who said, “I’ve been very disappointed in the actions of those two (Hill and Gibson).”
Mecham said his email has been filled with positive comments from people all over the county “who all thought it was a great thing to do.”
Gibson, in his commentary, wrote that “COLAB, the Tea Party, and miscellaneous activists had mounted a particularly vicious campaign to change Supervisor Mecham’s vote” on Hill’s vice chairman position.
Gibson’s singling out of COLAB, the Coalition of Labor Agriculture and Business of San Luis Obispo Count, nettled the organization’s spokesman, Mike Brown.
“We are not operating behind closed doors, and there is no conspiracy as Mr. Gibson suggests,” Brown said. “We did advocate that Debbie Arnold be named vice-chairman, as she’s never held a leadership spot on the board. She has mastered the issues, done her homework, and is very articulate. She’s done it with elegance and grace in the face of opposition. We sure had no foreknowledge of what Supervisor Mecham was going to do.”
Julie Tacker, a county resident who follows the activities of a variety of local government agencies, raised the issue of the Brown Act violation. She said Mecham’s “selfless decision was a complete shock.”
“When used properly, the Brown Act works,” Tacker said. “In this case, Mecham recognized the error of the previous chair, allowed the public to speak and the board responded. Public comment is intended to shape board decisions, and this time, it did.”
Tacker said Gibson and Hill “marginalize the public’s right to speak.” And she is hopeful that more people will begin to take interest in local government activities.
“I was delighted to see person after person go to the podium, many who had never attended a meeting before,” she said. “Young and old budding activists gives me hope that more people will do what I do. Watching and participating in government is more interesting than watching any reality show. You really can’t make this stuff up.”