Supervisors buck trend in electing new chairman

George Fry speaks out against the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors’ decision to elect District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli as chairman over District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi.

Gary Tofanelli, from District 1, was appointed chairman of the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors Tuesday in a move perceived by some as unfair to the District 2 area.

Tofanelli was appointed by a 3-2 vote, shortly after District 5 Supervisor Clyde Clapp and District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills proposed the idea. It marks the third time the chair has been filled by a board member from District 1 in the past four years.

Supervisors Michael Oliveira, District 3, and Jack Garamendi, District 2, who served as vice chairman in 2017, voted in opposition. During the following public comment, Bonnie Newman of Garamendi’s district, pointed out that historically, the vice chair is appointed chair after their term concludes. Garamendi also raised the issue of fairness to District 2 in his response to the nomination and vote.

“Twenty percent of the county has been disenfranchised,” said Garamendi. “It is the poorest district. The area most impacted by the Butte Fire. The majority of the board proved they don’t give a damn.”

For the past three years, a supervisor from District 2 has served in the vice chair’s position. Former Supervisor Chris Wright held the position from 2015-16. Garamendi served in 2017, and was appointed to the spot again for 2018, just before discussions concluded Tuesday.

Following the Butte Fire in 2016, supervisors decided to maintain the same leadership another year, with former District 1 Supervisor Cliff Edson as board chairman. Last year, Oliveira, from District 3, who was the only returning supervisor, was voted to the board’s top spot.

No supervisor from District 2 has served as chair in almost a decade.

In defense of his nomination and vote, Clapp said he chose Tofanelli because he thought the District 1 representative was the best choice. He acknowledged his own district was being passed over, but said that he did not mind. He also said he didn’t have the time to serve as chairman this year.

“I am in the process of re-election. I am busy,” said Clapp during deliberations. “I know (Garamendi) is facing a recall.”

Some who spoke during the public comment period supported the appointment of Tofanelli. Vicky Reinke stated that she preferred Tofanelli because he has had prior experience on the Board of Supervisors, serving as chairwoman in 2012. Susan Morse, with the Residents Against Commercial Marijuana group, said she knew of many concerned residents from Garamendi’s district whose emails and calls were neglected by the supervisor at some point this past year.

Minutes later, Tom Guthrie, of District 2, alleged other supervisors were unresponsive to his efforts to communicate. He said he has been able to contact Garamendi routinely.

During a break in the proceedings, Oliveira said he supported Garamendi, but he was unable to propose his appointment during the meeting because of an unspoken rule that  precludes the chairman from making any motions.

As soon as Tofanelli was named to the board’s top spot, Oliveira nominated Garamendi as vice chairman. His suggestion edged out an attempted nomination from Clapp, who pushed for Mills to be appointed as vice chairman while Oliveira was speaking.

Emotions ran high at the meeting. At least one member of the public, George Fry, was threatened he’d be asked to leave if he continued his vocal outcry to Tofanelli’s appointment.

Another, Bonnie Newman, told board members who took that action that they risked looking like “colluders, conspirators and crooks.”

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