The job of the “Public Member” of Stanislaus County’s Local Agency Formation Commission is to balance the future of this broader community with our historical past and try to deliver the best quality of life for the community as a whole.
LAFCO is an important, but little followed, agency that decides about annexation of land to cities, whether new cities should incorporate and similar matters. As a former Public Member of LAFCO, I have been following the recent developments with great interest.
Two LAFCO members represent city governments and two represent county government. In contrast, the single Public Member is not to represent either of those nor any particular political, economic, social or special interests.
Instead, the pubic member’s role is to balance and represent only the public interest against the more specific concerns of the other four members – all of whom are elected politicians. LAFCO’s Public Member is a unique position in California governance.
Traditionally, in our broader community, public members have been independent of city and county governments.
During my tenure as public member, LAFCO had a noticeable lack of rancor among voting members. The simple reason was there was a balance. There were two city votes and two county votes.
In the last decade, this tradition of non-affiliation has been violated as retired city and county officials have served on LAFCO. The public member should truly represent the broad interests of the entire community. Strong bias toward any particular segment was not allowed in the past. Without an independent public member, cities and the county vie with each other to control the third vote. As a result, LAFCO is a house divided and it is at a crossroads.
I strongly suggest both the city and county factions reflect on the past.
Historically, LAFCO would not have considered retired city and county employees or former elected officials to sit as the public member. Certainly our past county supervisors who occupied those important posts would not have supported a former mayor as the public member in a bid to embarrass mayors or vindicate their own stubbornness.
The LAFCO public member is a very important position, helping to determine the long-term direction of our community. The person cannot have an ax to grind. The person must be unbiased and seek only the best for our communities. The person also really needs to be able to work in a collaborative fashion with the other members.
With this in mind, I challenge current LAFCO members to do what is right and not what will make them feel good. If the commission continues on its current path, it will continue to see LAFCO veer off course and the community will not have the benefit of an independent public member.
It will be interesting to see which attitude prevails. Our history of independent LAFCO public members or a grinding of personal interests as politicians vie for power while betraying the public interest.
Ed Persike owns Persike Benefit Solutions; he has served as the LAFCO public member.