LAFCo tries to get down to business

Linda Satchwell
Staff Writer

    The Eastside Cowboys and Local Agency Formation Commission Chairman Robert Meacher brought the battle home at the commission’s Nov. 9 meeting. Citizen-at-large Larry Douglas began the mudslinging by commenting the Portola three (city representatives Bill Kennedy and John Larrieu, and county member Terry Swofford) were in fact “vigilantes,” not cowboys.
    Meacher weighed in, explaining he hadn’t meant to malign “the ranching community of Plumas County.” He had in mind a different kind of cowboy altogether. In his years in the merchant marine, a nautical cowboy was someone who functioned on autopilot.
    Eastsider Kennedy asked to move Item 10, Commissioner Reports, up on the agenda. He had three items to discuss he said.
    First, he floated the proposition LAFCo should meet in Portola. Since most of its members live there, it would save gas money.
    Meacher, who lives at the other end of the county, said he wouldn’t mind the drive, but perhaps the commissioners should rotate the meeting site throughout the county while they were at it. No decision was made.
    Second, Kennedy pointed out that in the Nov. 4 issue of the newspaper John Gullixson said files he had in process contained work that was personal to him, so he didn’t turn them over to the commission. That made the forensic audit “worthless” according to Kennedy.
    Third, he wanted to have Meacher removed as chairman of LAFCo: “I know that we changed chairman in January, but I would like to mention the fact that our attorney, through the previous fiasco, told us twice at the last meeting that we had with her that we could not and should not discuss what was going on in closed session, beyond the fact that it’s a California law … and it just seems to be that what you’ve done by discussing closed session items with the newspaper against the advice of our attorney, is created a problem where we can be sued.     “And I don’t like the idea of us possibly being sued because our chairman couldn’t restrain himself. And I would like to see us—we can change chairman anytime we want to. And I’d like to see us do it now to let people know that we don’t approve of breaking the law of California, or going against our attorney’s advice. I’d like to see that done … I’d like to see that done today.”
    LAFCo’s new Executive Officer John Benoit, functioning as a mediating force for the polarized commission, said, “I think it does have to be agendized. But, we’re also going to be addressing this in the bylaws,” an update of which Benoit was bringing to the commission later in the meeting.
    Meacher weighed in regarding his extended service as LAFCo chairman: “I’ve had the distinct pleasure of being chair for six or seven years now, ‘cuz nobody else wanted the damn job. I’m more than happy, either now or at the meeting in December or January to relinquish the chair.
    “Obviously there’s been a sea change. I think the interesting point is Mr. Kennedy’s interpretation of the law. What I said to the newspaper, I said every week in open session—that I didn’t think it was a good move (to remove former EO John Gullixson) and ass backwards and all that.”
    At that point Terry Swofford, one of the alleged Eastside Cowboys, tried to call a truce: “I’m to a point that we need to put all this behind us ... let’s just move on and deal with the business of LAFCo. This back-and-forth stuff is not good for LAFCo.”
    Meacher and Kennedy exchanged barbs for a bit longer, and later Meacher came back at Kennedy during the bylaws discussion.
    Through it all, Benoit was the voice of reason, repeating that commission bylaws would help keep the commissioners on topic: “Everybody knows that you know where you’re going ... and what happens when,” he said.    
    During the bylaws discussion, he also suggested to the commissioners that July would be the best time to elect a new chairman, since this is the beginning of the fiscal year and both the city and county members have had a chance to settle in to their jobs.
    Later, Benoit said if Kennedy wanted to, he could put the removal of Meacher as chairman on the agenda, and if two other members agreed, they could throw him off. But, he said, “Why don’t they wait?”
    Benoit, who comes to Plumas County with more than 25 years of LAFCo experience and currently represents seven rural counties as their executive officer, said his mediation training and experience definitely comes in handy in his line of work. “I don’t have a dog in the fight,” he said, “so I can do that.”
    Benoit’s style is based on moderation and consistency. In Plumas County’s LAFCo, after the recent upheaval, he’s interested in “getting it back in operation ... I try to get the necessary tasks done as efficiently as possible, and I want to help and work with the [special] districts.”
    Benoit lauded the ability of Plumas County’s special districts to work together. “In most counties, there isn’t the camaraderie that I see here,” he added.
    As for the battle between certain of LAFCo’s commissioners, he suggested the policies (which he’s in the process of updating, since LAFCo law changes often) “will let everybody know, including the public and the districts, how LAFCo operates.”


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