Stanislaus LAFCo needs a dedicated public helper


April 23, 2013 

Tonight, the four elected members of the Local Agency Formation Commission — two city council representatives and two county supervisors — will choose LAFCo's next public member, a citizen who could end up being the tie-breaker on important growth decisions and annexations.

The appointment, for a four-year term, is getting more attention than in the past because of the power that LAFCo has, including its new mandate for farmland mitigation before approving city annexations for more housing.

Six applicants for the position will be interviewed behind closed doors this afternoon by a subcommittee consisting of the commission chairman Bill O'Brien and vice chairwoman Amy Bublak. Then they are expected to make a recommendation to the full commission at its 6 p.m. public meeting.

Considering the influence of LAFCo, we urge the commission to interview the six applicants in public session as well, giving them time to describe their interest in the job, their experience and their association with any groups with an interest in land use — think environmental, agricultural or business. The public should have a chance to ask questions and comment.

This is the kind of openness that is pretty routine when a school board or council fills an open position. It is not required by LAFCo's policy on filling the public seat, but, as we've said so many times before, openness promotes credibility.

The Modesto Chamber of Commerce asked for public interviews in an April 2 letter to the commission. The chamber also wanted the applications posted on the LAFCo website, something that was not done, the executive director said, to protect personal information of the applicants. For tonight's meeting, the address and other personal details could be redacted and résumés provided to people who attend the meeting.

Among the six applicants, five have former ties to city and-or county agencies. Ron Freitas, currently the alternate public member, is the retired Stanislaus County planning director; Annabel Gammon is a former Stanislaus County planning commissioner; Robert Smith is a former Ceres planner who went on to become planning director of Merced County; Brad Hawn is a former Modesto City Councilman and current chamber board member; Steve Hallum is the former city manager of Oakdale. The other applicant is John Mier, a service adviser at Patchetts Ford.

The commission needs a public member who will put in the necessary time and effort to study complicated annexation issues and who will hear all sides fairly. An open interview procedure is a vital part of seeing that the best public member and alternate are selected.

LAFCo meets at 6 p.m. in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place.

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