Open letter to the MCC: Serving on multiple boards with overlapping responsibilities

Letter

Posted by
Sun, February 6, 2011


Sabrina Brennan sent us this letter she plans to deliver to the Midcoast Community Council.

Re: Serving on Multiple Boards with Overlapping Responsibilities

Dear Chair Erickson and Members of the Council,

At the February 1, 2011 Midcoast Park Lands (MPL) meeting the directors and members of the public discussed concerns about the MPL, Vice President serving on multiple boards with overlapping responsibilities. Both of the Midcoast Community Council (MCC) designated representatives on the MPL board, and members of the public raised concerns about the overlapping leadership role that one person — MPL Vice President — has on multiple unincorporated Midcoast groups.  It should be noted that the wife of the Vice President also serves on the MPL board and is an elected board member of Granada Sanitary District (GSD).

I would like to bring to your attention the fact that the unincorporated Midcoast currently has ten or more groups with overlapping responsibilities, relating to parks and recreation. They are:

  • Surfrider, San Mateo Chapter, Ed Larenas, Chair, board meetings are open to the public.
  • Friends of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (FMR), Ellen Gartside, Chair, board meetings are not open to the public.
  • Midcoast Parks and Recreation Committee (MPRC) Len Erickson, “Volunteer Coordinator” appointed by Dave Holland, County staff. Meetings held at GSD are open to the public
  • Midcoast Park Lands (MPL) Jim Blanchard, President, Len Erickson, Vice President and Dave Holland, County staff representative. Meetings held at GSD are open to the public.  MPL retreats are not held at GSD because they are not open to the public.
  • Friends of Quarry Park (FoQP), Jim Blanchard and Len Erickson. Meetings held at Quarry Park and GSD are open to the public.
  • Burnham Strip Committee (BSC), Len Erickson, Co-Chair and Leni Schultz, Co-Chair. Meetings are held at GSD and are open to the public.
  • Coastside Preservation and Recreation, Inc. (CP&R), Todd Bazzill, President and Bill Hill, Treasurer. Status of group and board meetings are unknown.
  • Highway 1 Citizens Committee (H1CC) Len Erickson, “manager” appointed by Dave Holland, County staff to select committee members and Neil Merrilees “group leader” also appointed by county staff. Read HMB Review article for more info on appointments.  The first H1CC meeting is closed to the public and is scheduled for February 2011. *This closed meeting is in violation of GSD’s policy for use of the meeting room.
  • Citizens Beach Access (CBA), Neil Merrilees, Leader. Meetings are not open to the public.
  • Dredge the Harbor, Brian Overfelt, Group Organizer. Meetings are open to the public.

* All meetings held in the GSD meeting room must to be open to the public, per GSD policy. MPRC, MPL, FoQP, BSC and H1CC meetings are held at GSD and therefore required to be open to the public.

Ten or more groups dealing with recreation does seem just a tad problematic, but the really problematic part, in my opinion, is that the Midcoast Community Council (MCC) chair and past chair currently serve in leadership roles on the above named groups. The current MCC Chair is Chair, Co-Chair, Vice President, County staff appointed “Coordinator”, County staff appointed “Manager” and a leader of six unincorporated Midcoast groups.

Membership on the Highway 1 Citizens Committee (H1CC) and the Citizens Beach Access group is not open to the public and not open to public review. Membership on H1CC and CBA should be primarily selected by majority action of the MCC at a public meeting.

I appreciate the volunteer community work of the MCC Chair and of the past MCC Chair, nevertheless, I believe simultaneously serving in leadership roles on multiple boards with overlapping responsibilities causes groups to become incestuously controlled by the narrowly conceived agendas, opinions, and biases, coming largely from a lack of diverse leadership.

Community decisions should be made by community participation.

In short, I am concerned that the lack of diverse leadership stifles healthy dialogue, limits community outreach, and deters public input from effectively influencing the organizational structure of the MCC, MPRC, MPL, H1CC, FoQP, BSC and CBA.

The Doctrine of Incompatible Offices forbids someone from holding two public offices that have even a potential overlap in public duties. The Doctrine has been a part of English common law for hundreds of years and began appearing in California judicial opinions over 70 years ago. This was made an explicit part of California law in 2005 (SB 274).

Technically the “doctrine of incompatible office” does not apply to a body that only has advisory powers, however in 2009 the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors forbid the election of current members of existing Coastside boards to the MCC.

No one can serve two masters. Someone’s loyalty to one office may mean a compromise of their responsibilities to another. More importantly, the public’s confidence in the integrity of the process may be compromised.

While the “doctrine of incompatible office” does not technically apply to advisory groups, the “doctrine” should still be followed, and therefore I ask that both Len Erickson, MCC Chair and Neil Merrilees, past MCC Chair step down from leading all but one board, citizens group, or council.

Sabrina Brennan


Comment 1
Sun, February 6, 2011 9:27pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

Sabrina raises an excellent point. I’m not sure all these organizations should be lumped together, but it’s still a mess and it’s symptomatic of the county’s mismanagement of the Midcoast.

The county needs to treat the MCC as representative of the community, and make it a partner in managing the community. The county appears to be drawing its committees from the same talent pool in any event.

Finally, organizations which are chartered by the county should be required to meet in public, regardless of whether it’s a legal requirement. Private organizations that have county charters and funding (such as MCTV) should also be be required to meet public. Strictly private organizations, such as Surfrider or FOFMR, can’t be required to meet in public, but it’s heartening to see that most of them do.

<i>Full disclosure: I’m on the Highway 1 committee. I’ve also said it’s wrong to exclude elected members of GSD and MWSD from eligibility for the MCC.<i>