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Lompoc Council Draws Rebuke From Economic Development Panel Members

Lompoc City Council members’ complaints about an advisory committee tasked with making recommendations for economic growth drew sharp rebukes from its two former committee chairs Tuesday night.

Councilmen Jim Mosby and Victor Vega asked for the discussion about the Economic Development Committee’s (EDC) membership and terms after questioning why council members don’t have more direct control over who serves on the all-volunteer advisory committee, which was established in 2012 to develop plans to attract businesses to the city and spur job growth.

“No other committee makes recommendations to council for appointments. If you’re not friends with some of the people on the committee, you’re not necessarily in the selection process of the committee,” Mosby said, referring to the process as a “clique.”

Mosby questioned why the panel is the only one of the city’s 14 citizen advisory committees for which council members are asked to approve appointments recommended by current committee members.

“I feel like this was pushed down our throats,” Mosby said, referring to appointments recommended by the committee that were approved by the council last month.

Outgoing EDC chair Jenelle Osborne reminded the council that when the committee was created four years earlier, the original members were asked to identify and recruit a diverse panel with representation from specific industries.

“They weren’t via friendships. They weren’t via buddies,” Osborne said. “This is a think tank for you that you should take advantage of, and be willing to hear even the dissenting voices that we bring forward,” Osborne said.

Vega said the commission needs “better connectivity” with council members, and suggested each of the five council members appoint two of the committee’s 15 voting members and be allowed to interview applicants.

“We should be able to sit down and talk to them before we actually do the appointment since it’s been said we appoint.”

Osborne said committee members had reached out to Vega and Mosby, the two newest council members, to share the committee’s work and progress.

“We reached out to you and welcomed you to come to the meetings, welcomed you to get to know any of the appointees and build those relationships that you want to have to hold us accountable. The fact that you have chosen not to do that is not on us.”

Steve Pepe, the committee’s original chair, objected to a comment by Mosby about committee members not showing up for meetings, and suggesting direct appointments by council members would improve attendance problems.

“Where’s the beef? You’re trying to address an issue that doesn’t exist,” Pepe said. “It was an issue raised in the newspaper. It’s a phony issue.”

The council ultimately voted to approve a compromise recommended by the EDC that would allow each council member to appoint one voting member to the committee for a four-year term. The committee also includes eight associates who participate but vote only when needed to make quorum.

Osborne and Pepe are both leaving the EDC after serving four years, each serving two years as chair.

The harshest exchange of the 90-minute discussion came in reaction to a suggested change by Economic Development Director Teresa Gallavan to text describing the committee’s function.

Pepe said the revised text represented a “sea change” in the committee’s value to the council, and would limit the committee’s ability to make recommendations on some issues unless directed to do so by the council.

“You’ve been asked to muzzle the EDC because of dissatisfaction by the staff with the way we have expressed ourselves on staff proposals,” Pepe said, calling the proposed change to the committee’s function “obnoxious.”

“It’s an offensive proposal quite frankly, and they tried to slide it by you without any real discussion, which makes it even more offensive,” Pepe said.

Gallavan said the proposed change was not intended “to muzzle the diversity of the points of view. But we are looking to clarify the work flow and the flow of communication.”

The council agreed to a suggestion by City Manager Patrick Wiemiller that city staff and committee members develop a revised committee description “without stifling the fantastic contribution and great creativity that comes out of our commissions, particularly this one.” 

Contributing Writer Carol Benham is a longtime local journalist who lives in Lompoc.

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