Mayor Gary Soiseth’s appointments to the Turlock Planning Commission, Parks, Arts and Recreation Committee (PARC), and several committees were approved on Tuesday night, albeit not without some controversy.
All of Soiseth’s appointments were approved by the Turlock City Council on Tuesday, including Councilmember Amy Bublak’s appointment to Vice Mayor.
Soiseth also appointed Eric Gonsalves and Steven Hallam, who were approved on a 4-1 vote by Council, to the Planning Commission. Gonsalves, the vice president/broker at Brownstone Equities, Inc., and Hallam, the consulting economic development/redevelopment manager for the City of Ceres, will replace Mike Brem, who vacated his Planning Commission seat at the end of his term, and Elvis Dias, who requested but was denied reappointment.
The appointment of Gonsalves and Hallam was met with some controversy, however, as Councilmember Steven Nascimento, who made the lone dissenting vote, disagreed with the appointments and possibly reasons for those appointments.
“I appreciate the Mayor’s evaluation of the candidates, but there are seven very qualified candidates, one of which is Elvis Dias, who has been a member of that commission since 2007, and two of which serve as alternates on that commission,” said Nascimento. "I feel that those individuals, having attended the meetings for the past two years, or since 2007 for the case of Mr. Dias, would probably have been better choices in respect to their commitment to the community and commission."
Gonsalves and Hallam were appointed over the likes of Dias, as well as Alice Pollard and Ashour Badal, who are both currently alternate members for the Planning Commission with terms ending in March.
However, Soiseth disagreed that Gonsalves and Hallam were not qualified for their newly appointed commissioner seats. The Mayor mentioned that Gonsalves is a fifth generation Turlocker and has served past and present as the president of the Downtown Turlock Property Owners Association and Hallam has more than 30 years of experience in planning and development.
"I think both of them add an element of diversity to the Planning Commission, so that’s where we’re taking it,” said Soiseth.
Despite those qualifications, Nascimento would still like appointments made on proper qualifications and not one what some may perceive as a political favor.
“I’d hate for there to be a perception in the public that there’s some political patronage system where campaign contributions lead to appointments,” said Nascimento. “I’d ask that the Mayor be considerate of that going forward and perhaps we can discuss the qualifications of each of the candidates before appointments are made."
Gonsalves and his wife Rebecca each made a $1,500 donation to Soiseth’s campaign in June.
Despite Nascimento’s comments on the appointments, Soiseth raved about the Gonsalves and Hallam, touting both their experience and dedication to Turlock.
“Eric Gonsalves is a dedicated member to this community,” said Soiseth about his appointment. “…He is a great planner and I think he has applied before to the Planning Commission but was never appointed. He expressed interest and I was very happy to appoint him.”
“Steve Hallam, as well, has been involved in multiple cities, including Turlock,” said Soiseth. “He’s one of the chief architects of Monte Vista Crossings — I don’t know if people know that. He’s also someone that has a huge passion for planning and good development and economic development and has over 30 years of experience.”
Gonsalves and Hallam will each serve a four-year term that will end Dec. 31, 2018.
There was no backlash against any of the Mayor’s other appointments, however, with all appointments being approved unanimously.
Councilmember Bublak was appointed as the Vice Mayor of Turlock and will serve her term through 2015.
PARC saw some changes made, with Soiseth cutting the committee from nine members to seven. Soiseth appointed Brent Bohlender, whose previous term on PARC ended on Dec. 31, 2014, and Hannah Noonan to the committee.
There were three vacancies, however Soiseth chose two only make two appointments; coupled with a recent resignation of a sitting member, the number of members on the committee is down to seven.
“With the large number, and with alternates, it doesn’t add the right pressure to the [PARC] to attend regularly,” said Soiseth. “I wanted to try to add a little more legitimacy. I talked to staff and their recommendation was to bring it down from nine to seven.”
The rest of the appointments approved by Turlock City Council are as flows:
- Turlock Representative on the Alliance: Soiseth
- Stanislaus County Economic Development Action Committee Member: Pulled
- League of California Cities, Central Valley Division, Executive Committee – Member: Councilmember Bill DeHart; Alternate Member: Councilmember Matthew Jacob
- Regional Surface Water Supply Project Advisory Committee – Member: Soiseth; Alternate Member: Bublak
- City/County Disaster Council – Member: Soiseth; Alternate: Turlock Fire Chief Tim Lohman
- San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Valley-Wide Special City Selection Committee – Member: Nascimento; Alternate: Jacob
- City of Turlock/Turlock Unified School District Joint Meeting Committee – Members: Soiseth and DeHart
- East Stanislaus Regional Water Management Partnership – Member: Soiseth; Alternate Member: Bublak
- Oversight Board to the Successor Agency to the Former Turlock Redevelopment Agency – Member: Soiseth
City Attorney Phaedra Norton made recommendation that Soiseth only appoint two members, himself and DeHart, to the City of Turlock/TUSD Joint Meeting Committee, as adding an alternate may violate the Brown Act.
“When the people Turlock voted me to be Mayor, they voted not just for me but for my vision,” said Soiseth on his reason for appointing himself to so many committees. “I think it’s important for me to sit on the heavy-hitting commissions and councils to make sure that the City of Turlock is represented well and that my vision is executed properly.”
Soiseth added that he is excited to begin working with these committees to work towards his vision.
“I’m not afraid of heavy lifting and I’m excited to get my feet wet.”