The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors today appointed Sarah West, economic development coordinator for the City of Eureka, to an at-large position on the county’s Planning Commission. 

Sarah West | Contributed

“I’m a local planning nerd at heart and worked in the field for several years,” West said during Tuesday’s meeting. “Humboldt is my home. I believe in serving my community, commitment to equity, objectivity and finding solutions that work for everyone. … I’m well versed in the processes of planning from both sides of the dais and as a planning commissioner, it would be an honor to serve all of Humboldt.”

​​The board also considered applications from Jerome Qiriazi, a transit planner with the Humboldt Transit Authority (HTA), and two former commissioners: Melanie McCavour whose term expired at the end of January, and Mike Newman, who served as former Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass’ appointment to the commission for several years. 

During deliberations, Fourth District Supervisor Natalie Arroyo underscored the need for an increased focus on economic development as well as energy planning and research on the Planning Commission, something “the two new applicants bring in spades,” she said.

“As we consider [the] implementation of our Climate Action Plan and a number of energy measures from the state, I know that Jerome Qiriazi brings an extensive background with energy planning and research, as well as transit planning,” Arroyo said. “[Sarah] West also has that background with economic development, as well as serving on LAFCO [Humboldt Local Agency Formation Commission] and working with a lot of our little districts, which, I think, is a very important skill to bring forward [to the commission].”

Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell indicated her support for McCavour and Newman, noting the pair have provided “proven assets to the Planning Commission” over the years. Bushnell also acknowledged previous issues with commissioners having to recuse themselves from certain discussions due to a conflict of interest, noting that “participation is a very key and important part to the commission.”

A little over a year ago, McCavour almost lost her seat as an at-large commissioner due to a conflict of interest after she accepted a job as the tribal historic preservation officer (THPO) for the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria. Rather than remove McCavour from the commission, the Board of Supervisors requested that she recuse herself from considering any and all projects for which she would be serving at the Rancheria’s THPO.

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn echoed Bushnell’s concern about frequent recusals, especially from employees of local governments and/or agencies that work closely with the county, such as the City of Eureka and the HTA. Bohn expressed his support Bass’ previous appointee.

“I appreciate [Newman]’s ability to read everything, come prepared and … he’s probably the most calming force on the Planning Commission there is,” Bohn said. “That’s where I’m going to be leaning. I’ll be right up front. I know I’ll be in the minority but I’m getting used to that.”

Arroyo asked Interim County Counsel Scott Miles if he could further explain the recusal process. “In what cases would people need to recuse themselves from items or would they not be able to participate in certain items given [their] employment?” 

“They would have to recuse themselves in situations in which there was a conflict of interest,” Miles said. “The existence of a conflict of interest would be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the situation and how it interacted with the nature of work that the particular planning commissioner did.”

After a bit more discussion, Bohn made a motion to appoint Newman to the at-large vacancy on the Planning Commission. Madrone interjected, noting that the board would “end up with a split vote no matter what” and suggested the use of a ranked-choice voting system to avoid conflict between board members.

“The person with the number one choice would get three points, number two choice [gets] two points and your third choice would get one point,” Madrone explained. “Then the person with the most votes would be the one that would logically be brought forward by this board to be appointed. Again, what I’m trying to do is avoid having a split vote on the board.”

Seems simple enough, right? 

Each member made their selections on paper and handed them over to County Administrative Officer Elishia Hayes to tally. On her first attempt, Hayes misunderstood Madrone’s ranking method. On her second try, McCavour wound up with 17 points, which would be impossible given the most points a single applicant could get under the impromptu ranked-choice system would be 15. On the third attempt, Qiriazi was determined to have the most points. Bohn made a motion to appoint Qiriazi, which was seconded by Bushnell.

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson noted that “this particular methodology isn’t very scientific.” A somewhat frazzled Madrone apologized for the chaotic process and suggested the board return to the item after adjourning for a closed session item, which the board was already late for. Bohn agreed to pull his motion.

Following closed session, Madrone announced that West had won the “straw pull vote” with 10 points. Qiriazi followed with nine points, Newman with six points and McCavour with five points. Madrone then asked his fellow board members to choose between the two top choices – Qiriazi and West. Wilson selected Qirizari, while the rest of the board voted for West.

The board congratulated West on the appointment and Madrone, once again, apologized for the unintended chaos.


DOCUMENT: Sarah West’s application packet