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Supervisor Mecham unexpectedly steps down as board chair 

Debbie Arnold appointed as chair, Lynn Compton as vice chair

In a surprise move Tuesday, First District Supervisor Frank Mecham, stepped down as chair of the board of supervisors during an agenda item discussing reorganization of the board.

Supervisor Frank Mecham

Supervisor Frank Mecham

The issue was placed on Tuesday’s agenda after members of the public expressed their concern that public comment was not taken at the special meeting on Jan. 5 when newly elected county officials were sworn in and the board reorganized. Mecham was selected as chair and Third District Supervisor Adam Hill as vice chair. Fifth District Supervisor Arnold, was the lone vote against Hill’s appointment to vice chair.

“We’ve got quite a few people here who want to speak today, but before I go out to the public I’m going to say something and I want my colleagues to consider this when it comes back and you to consider it before you come up to speak,” Mecham said. “I know how to fix this. And the way I’m going to suggest fixing this: I am going to stop down as chair and I’m going to nominate Supervisor Arnold as the chair and I’m going to nominate Supervisor Compton as the vice chair. It will take three people out of rotation for the election year cycle. It will bring us back into the Fifth, Fourth and if Mr. Hill runs for office and is successful then he’ll be chair his first year back. And we can move right on down the line.  … I am full ready to step away as chairman of the board. And that’s the motion I’m going to make when we come back.”

County staff said that the public comment was inadvertently not solicited during the meeting, so the item was placed on the agenda to garner public comment.

“I think the violation of the Brown Act was intentional,” Lydia Thompson of Atascadero said, adding that she thought Mecham could have stayed as chair and start the rotation with vice chair.

Arnold said that she was expecting Mecham to be appointed as chair and the discussion to center over who would be appointed as vice chair.

Debbie Arnold

Supervisor Debbie Arnold

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Arnold said. “I assumed it might be the same vote or close to the same vote.”

Many of the speakers were expecting the same and were prepared to speak in support of Arnold as vice chair. Some speakers addressed allegations that weren’t directly given at the meeting Tuesday, but have been circling the board. Those speakers complemented Mecham for his suggested solutions.

“I don’t think any of my colleagues advocate for any type of sexism,” Arnold told the Paso Robles Daily News. “Frank’s reasoning was to try to bring some semblance of order to the chair and vice chair [selection].”

Mecham moved that he step down as chair and that Arnold be selected as chair and Compton as vice chair.

“I don’t have particular faith, however well-intentioned, that your action will solve the problem,” said Second District Supervisor Bruce Gibson, a democrat. “I don’t think there was a problem. Frankly, we had a reorganization vote and, aside from neglecting from taking public comment, we had the election of the chair unanimously and the election of the vice chair on a 4-1 vote…. Frankly, Mr. Mecham, I think you’re taking the easy way out. I will not support the motion …  but I will serve and defer to whomever is elected to serve as chair.”

Fourth District Supervisor Lynn Compton, a republican, questioned Mecham on his decision. “Are you sure that you’ve thought this through? This bothers me that you’re offering to step aside when you were unanimously elected.”

“I’m stepping back,” Mecham replied. “And, no, I will not take the chair’s position. I have thought this through. … Over the last couple of weeks it’s all that’s been on my mind.”

Hill said he thinks it a political move to oust him from the vice chairmanship and replace him with a republican.

Mecham’s motion was approved 3-2 with Gibson and Hill dissenting.

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