Three out of five members on the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to keep Chris Howard as board chairman for another year.
Howard and his colleagues Gerry Hemmingsen and Lori Cowan voted in favor of electing Howard to a second year as chairman despite several members of the public asking that District 1 Supervisor Roger Gitlin be installed in the position.
Gitlin and his colleague, District 5 Supervisor Bob Berkowitz, dissented.
Nominations from Gitlin to elect Berkowitz as chair and from Berkowitz to elect Gitlin as chair failed with Howard, Hemmingsen and Cowan dissenting.
The board’s next task of electing a vice chair went much the same way with Cowan nominating Hemmingsen as vice chair and Berkowitz nominating Gitlin. The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of electing Hemmingsen to the position with Gitlin and Berkowitz dissenting.
“I don’t understand why there was no public comment in the last motion because it seemed to me the fix was in,” said Crescent City resident Donna Westfall during the discussion on the vice chair. “You three have run this board and this town into the ground. (There are) no jobs, no industry, forget Last Chance Grade until you’re all dead and gone. These are the issues, some of the issues, that need to be addressed very seriously because if not the town’s going to turn into a ghost town.”
When nominating Berkowitz as chairman, Gitlin praised his past accomplishments as president of the Northern California Classified School Commissioners Association, as chairman of the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees, a member of the Grand Jury and as a current county supervisor.
Gitlin noted that under Berkowitz’s leadership, the school board obtained federal and state funding to build a new school resource center on Harding Street and worked with Del Norte’s congressman to rebuild Gasquet Mountain School when it burned down in 2001.
The school board under Berkowitz’s leadership also passed policies that resulted in increased test scores throughout the district, Gitlin said.
“Just this last year as sitting supervisor Bob got an appointment to speak directly with the White House about the need to get a bypass within a five-year period for Last Chance Grade,” Gitlin said. “With all these things he has accomplished in his career isn’t it about time we had him lead us toward a brighter future as our chairman for 2018?”
When nominating Gitlin, Berkowitz also praised his accomplishments, stating Gitlin has been “an agent for much needed change.” Berkowitz praised Take A Bite out of Blight, which Gitlin founded shortly after taking his supervisor seat the first time in 2013.
“He organized volunteer cleanups and graffiti abatement efforts that have installed a new level of pride here,” Berkowitz said of Gitlin. “This effort has been one with zero cost to the county.”
Berkowitz also recognized Gitlin as a founding member of the Last Chance Grade advisory committee, which gathered 35 letters of support from local governments and other individuals along U.S. 101, as well as a prominent voice concerned about questionable practices at Sutter Coast Hospital.
“We all know he’s fearless,” Berkowitz said. “He’s not intimidated by some daunting challenges facing our financially strapped county.”
Even though Howard, who represents District 3, didn’t open up the vote on board chair to public comment, several community members spoke during the general public comment period just before the discussion. According to County Counsel Elizabeth Cable, that sufficiently fulfilled the requirement on the board’s part to hear from the public before making its decision.
During the public comment period, four people urged the Board of Supervisors to elect Gitlin as its chair. Former county supervisor Chuck Blackburn, who retired from public office 11 years ago, noted when he was on the board, every supervisor had an opportunity to be its chair but that hasn’t happened in recent years.
“I would hope every supervisor in a five year period could serve one time as board chair,” Blackburn said. “In recent boards there have been some chairs that serve two years in a row. I think that’s self serving and I don’t think it does this community well.”
Del Norte County Planning Commissioner Johnny Jacobs echoed Blackburn’s statements, stating for the last two years there’s been animosity on the board aimed at Gitlin and Berkowitz.
“You guys were put there for the people of Del Norte County,” Jacobs told the board. “You need to put these guys in charge of committees and spread it out and let them do what their people in the county elected them to do.”
At the Board of Supervisors’ Dec. 12 meeting, both Berkowitz and Gitlin objected to perceived unfair treatment by Howard after three consecutive appointments of supervisors to other boards. One item was to appoint Hemmingsen as a delegate to the Golden State Finance Authority with Cowan as the alternate. The other was to appoint Hemmingsen as a delegate to the Rural Representatives of California with Cowan as the alternate. The third was to appoint Hemmingsen as the delegate on the Environmental Services Joint Powers Authority Board of Directors with Solid Waste Director Tedd Ward as the alternate.
All three appointments were approved by 3-2 votes with Gitlin and Berkowitz voting no.
On Tuesday, after Howard was elected as chairman for 2018 and Hemmingsen vice chair, Gitlin encouraged the community to think of the decision as a “learning moment.”
“I’m going to move forward in a positive manner in attempting to work with my colleagues on this board, which I’ve been successful at in the past,” Gitlin said. “ I need to look at myself to see what I can do to make some changes in myself to work within this board and some how, some way with God’s help try to find a way to work with my colleagues on this board just so that our opinions are valued.”
Gitlin further added that he and Berkowitz “are not a threat.”
“We represent real people like you who voted us in with at least 50 percent of the vote; it may not be yours, but it may be others,” he said. “Let’s look forward to 2018 to see if we can get along and see if we can be dignified and respectful of one another.”
According to County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina other county supervisors that have served two years as board chairman include Hemmingsen, David Finigan and Michael Sullivan.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .