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Cal Poly president selection board includes lobbyist for big ag

What does it mean to be a community member?

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The search committee created to advise the California State Trustees in the hunt for a new Cal Poly president is made up of representatives from the school’s administration, faculty, alumni, and students. There’s also a single member listed as “community member.”

The casual reader might assume “community member” references someone from the area around the university who represents the interests of the local public. Not so.

The “community member” on the selection committee is George H. Soares, a Cal Poly alum and one of the most powerful lobbyists in Sacramento working on behalf of California agriculture businesses. According to his website, his firm works on behalf of such organizations as the California Beef Council, ConAgra (the maker of Slim Jims and Jiffy Pop popcorn), and many others. His firm’s website trumpets his lobbying accomplishments:

“George and his firm have been responsible for drafting and influencing thousands of legislative and regulatory proposals affecting a broad spectrum of interests. Of particular note was passage of the largest tax relief package ever for California agriculture.”

Because of his work on behalf of Big Ag, Capitol Weekly has listed him as No. 18 on a list of the 100 most influential Californians.

For someone listed as a “community member,” he doesn’t actually live anywhere near Cal Poly. He owns a big dairy and farming spread in Hanford (a town in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley), and he has a house in Sacramento.

To the Cal State University hierarchy, that’s close enough for someone to be considered a community member. Erik Fallis, media relations specialist for the California State University system, said Soares is a community member in a larger sense than someone who lives near the school.

“He serves the Cal Poly community, and that implies involvement from the outside community, in the sense [that] they are from outside of the university,” Fallis explained.

Fallis said Soares has been very involved in the Cal Poly community for years, pointing out that he’s the chairman of the California State University Agricultural Committee. He’s also on the Cal Poly Foundation Board of Directors.

The advisory board will combine with the CSU trustees to form the presidential search committee. Members of the public who want to attend a meeting of the advisory committee, know this: It’s already too late. The group had its single open meeting Feb 9. The rest of the meetings will be closed to the public.

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