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Supervisors undergo sudden shift as Mecham steps aside for Arnold

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While discussing a parliamentary spat that's been heating up since its first meeting of 2015, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors underwent a sudden change in leadership after District 1 Supervisor Frank Mecham unexpectedly stepped down from his seat as chair and nominated District 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold to take his place.

Mecham announced his decision before the meeting's public comment portion, sidestepping the expected criticisms, which turned into shows of support and appreciation for his decision.

On Feb. 3, the board revisited the process of electing its chair and vice-chair for 2015. As per the board's usual rotation, Mecham and District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill were elected chair and vice chair, respectively, at its first meeting on Jan. 5. The process drew ire after no public comment was taken.

At that meeting, Arnold expressed frustration with the process because the rotation used to select the chair did not show a clear delineation. That rotation has had two distinct shifts since 2006. In 2009, Mecham, a freshman at the time, declined to serve as chair after beating Harry Ovitt in that district's 2008 election. The cycle again skipped a year in 2013 after the sudden death of District 4 Supervisor Paul Teixeira. Gibson moved from vice chair to chair that year, and remained chair throughout 2014. The process has since followed the normal course.

Since 2006, the District 5 Supervisor—at the time Jim Patterson, Arnold's predecessor—served as chair twice, in 2008 and 2012. Regardless, critics of the process have accused Gibson, Hill, and Mecham of working to lock out Arnold.

In order to allow for public comment, the board decided to revisit the issue, voting 3-2 on Jan. 13 to reconsider the decision and to allow for public comment. At the Feb. 3 meeting, the board first reviewed the rotation-based procedure to elect a chair and vice chair at the beginning of every year, tweaking a few details while reaffirming most of the process. The board then revisited the process of selecting its chair.

After Mecham's announcement that he would step down, the crowd's mood changed quickly. Julie Tacker, a frequent voice of criticism at board meetings, thanked Mecham.

"Frankly, I'm a little stunned, and I think it's the most manly thing that I've seen you do," Tacker said.

Another mainstay at Tuesday meetings, Bill Pelfrey, echoed those comments.

"Well Mr. Mecham, you finally found a way to shut me up," Pelfrey said.

Mecham later elaborated on his decision, telling the audience that while his decision was in response to aired concerns, he was hoping this would mean people would move on.

"God knows I've thought this through much more than I ever wanted to think about it," Mecham said.

"The anger, and the frustration, and the polarization, we got to get rid of that," he added. "Sometimes you say we don't listen, I think it's that we don't agree—there's a difference."

The board voted 3-2 for Arnold and District 4 Supervisor Lynn Compton to become chair and vice chair, respectively. Hill and Gibson voted no.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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