Honor Humanitarians of the Year during Martin Luther King Day Celebration
By Daniel Borsuk
Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors appointed Susanna Thompson and Mark Whitlock to serve on the financially beleaguered East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Board of Directors, a position that the two incoming board directors may only serve on until the end 2018.
Supervisors voted 4-0 to approve the consent item at Tuesday’s board meeting. Board Chair Karen Mitchoff of Pleasant Hill was absent due to illness.
The reason Thompson, a co-owner of an electric contractor business of Clayton, and Whitlock, owner of a Bethel Island carpet cleaning business, may only serve a year on the board is because unless both directors decide to run election campaigns later this year, their jobs on the financially challenged fire district board will come to an end.
Thompson and Whitlock beat five other candidates for the fire board posts. They replace county appointees Robert Kenny and Cheryl Morgan. Both Kenny’s and Morgan’s term expire next month, February.
Other candidates for the two county appointments to the fire district’s board were Anthony Barigiacchi of Brentwood who is an engineer with the Novato Fire Protection District; Lito Calimlim of Clayton, who is a real estate broker; Karin Schneider of Brentwood, a city of Tracy finance director; Stephen Smith of Brentwood, who is a former ECCFPD director; and Sandra Strobel, a Knightsen real estate agent
In November 2016 voters in the fire district overwhelmingly passed Measure M 62.4 percent to 37.6 percent to change the board from an appointed nine-member panel an elected board of nine directors. Currently the nine-member board consists of directors are appointed by residency.
In addition to the two directors now appointed by the board of supervisors, the ECCFPD has four directors selected by the city of Brentwood and three directors chosen by the city of Oakley.
As if the upcoming November election isn’t enough, voters in the fire district will take part in a vote by mail election in March on whether to scale down the number of board directors from nine directors to five directors. Depending on the outcome of the special election in March, voters will cast ballots in November on who gets to serve on either the nine-member or five-member board of directors.
The two 2018 elections occur in a fire district that is rapidly growing and transitioning from its agricultural roots to a bustling and sprawling suburban area where real estate values have zoomed up more than 14 percent in 2017.
Whether changing the composition or number of ECCFD Board of Directors from nine to five Directors-at-Large to retaining the number of directors at nine, will enable the district to gain more citizen support to place and pass bond measures to adequately fund the district, is a question no one can properly predict right now.
Supervisor Diane Burgis of Brentwood, whose District 3 encompasses the troubled ECCFD, believes the change from an appointed board to an elected board will solve the district’s financial woes. “I am really pleased that the fire board is going to be elected,” she said after the supervisors approved the consent item. “Hopefully, by having an elected board, fire district constituents will feel more confident about the district and the directors will act more responsibly.”
ECCFPD Fire Chief Brian Helmick believes the elected Board of Directors will also help the financially strapped fire district turn the page on its financial woes. The question of moving from an appointed board of directors to an elected board of directors has been something the community has been asking for some time,” the fire chief said.
The key is whether an elected board of directors can do the job of convincing constituents of passing bond measures to keep the ECCFPD fiscally sound. “We need a source of sustainable funding,” said Fire Chief Helmick. “Having an appointed board has not been successful in finding long-term sustainable funding. Perhaps voters will listen to elected directors,” he said.
Even though an audit last August found the Fire District’s budget had $6.2 million in additional funds, Fire Chief Helmick, who was permanently named fire chief last October, said he is constantly competing against fire districts that tend to recruit his veteran fire fighters because those fire districts offer better pay and benefit packages than the ECCFPD. Most recently, four fire fighters left the ECCFPD to join districts offering better pay and benefit packages.
Chief Helmick, who has been with the ECCFD since the district’s formation in 2002, oversees a $15 million 2018 budget for 28 fire fighters and four battalion chiefs to staff fire stations located in Brentwood, Discovery Bay and Oakley.
Humanitarian of the Year Awards
In other business, the Supervisors celebrated the county’s 40th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration and Humanitarian of the Year Awards. Community activist and retired software industry executive Phil Arnold of Concord was awarded the Humanitarian of the Year Award. The Air Force veteran was recognized for his community service, especially in the areas of race and humanitarian relations. Sienna Camille Terry, a Las Lomas High School student was honored as Student Humanitarian of the Year.
Supervisors Approve Sheriff-Coroner MOU to Use Naval Weapons Station
In addition, Supervisors also unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding between the Contra Costa County Sheriff-Coroner and the United States Army to use a portion of the former Naval Weapons Station near Concord to operate a marine patrol and training facility. The agreement will last nine years at no cost to the county.