When members of a Fresno County commission recently met for the first time in more than 20 years, they had just one job – to disband.
When the Fresno-Clovis Metropolitan Solid Waste Commission last met before its lengthy hiatus, Clovis City Council Member Nathan Magsig was a Clovis West High School junior and Fresno City Council Member Esmeralda Soria was in grammar school. Both are now committee members.
To save staffing costs and reduce the workload of county supervisors, Fresno County has been trying to reduce its number of committees, boards and commissions, many of which were once required by law. Those not legally required can be quickly abolished. Those with legal strings attached sometimes linger longer than they should, like the Fresno-Clovis Metropolitan Solid Waste Commission.
The commission was dormant longer than it was active. It was created in 1977 by state legislation to assist communities with grants to buy landfill space. It also brought community leaders together to establish operating terms when they shared landfills.
This was a commission that time and bureaucrats forgot, and bureaucrats rarely forget.
Andreas Borgeas, Fresno County supervisor
“You can’t just flip a switch with some of these,” said Fresno County Supervisor Andreas Borgeas, a member of the solid waste committee. “Sometimes it takes a lengthy process to disassemble and disentangle.”
County officials say there is no evidence that the last scheduled meeting actually convened on June 8, 1994, and sparse notes exist from a meeting that took place in 1987.
Eventually, approval of the state’s recycling law required communities to reduce trash destined for landfills. In 1990, that law created a new committee, the Integrated Waste Management Task Force, which oversaw all the issues that the old commission covered and more.
In the meantime, there was no reason for the metropolitan solid waste commission to meet, and government agencies didn’t appoint new members.
“This was a commission that time and bureaucrats forgot,” said Borgeas, “and bureaucrats rarely forget.”
To disband or not to disband
Three years ago, county supervisors got a list of 19 boards recommended for elimination. It’s not known why the waste commission didn’t make that list.
Committee elimination sometimes is necessary because issues such panels were meant to address no longer are pressing or, as in the case of the waste commission, are covered by other committees, Borgeas said. In addition, new committees are created as issues emerge.
Two years ago, a joint Fresno city-county women’s commission was eliminated when the county found none of the 15 members had been appointed by city and county governments. It was revived last March as a county-only commission.
Pam Fobbs, the new chairwoman, said women’s issues remain important in Fresno County, which has some of the state’s highest black infant mortality rates, human trafficking and children’s issues.
As an advisory board to supervisors, the commission makes recommendations on matters that affect women, children and families.
“I couldn’t fathom the county not having a women’s commission,” she said. “Now more than ever, a commission on the status of women is relevant in Fresno County and the Valley.”
Fresno County supervisors often have a difficult time finding qualified appointees for boards and commissions, which led to a recent merger of the county’s Mental Health and Drug Advisory boards into the newly created Behavioral Health Board.
The Alcohol and Drug Advisory Board was supposed to have 15 members, but only had steady attendance of three. Only 12 of 21 members appointed to the Mental Health Board showed up regularly. The Behavioral Health board has 16 members, including a member of the Board of Supervisors. The consolidation was also helpful because issues overlapped for both groups.
Carolyn Evans, former chairwoman of the mental health board, said some disorders are related to substance abuse, and since both boards had trouble recruiting members, the idea made sense.
Finding potential members continues to be a problem, Evans said, because many experts work for agencies that have contracts with the county, creating potential conflicts of interest.
“Those are the people who are the most interested, unless it’s someone with a family member or some other connection,” she said.
Getting the band back together
Trashing the Fresno-Clovis waste commission isn’t easy.
Sally Lopez, a principal analyst in the Fresno County Public Works and Planning Department, tried to find out who had been or needed to be appointed to the committee. The commission couldn’t disband if there were no members to disband it, she said.
For months, Lopez said, she tried to get the county and cities to appoint members.
“I needed them to meet so they could give me direction,” she said. “It was a struggle to even get the governing bodies to elect someone.”
Six to eight months passed before she got word that there were nominated members and she was able to gather the necessary documents to give members background about the agency’s past and why it was time to eliminate it.
Once members were chosen, Lopez had to schedule a convenient time for them to meet. That day was March 23, a meeting that – except for the members and staff – attracted nobody.
Over the course of the 30-minute session, committee officers were named. Lopez explained how the commission was born and how it would ultimately be laid to rest.
Commission members then voted unanimously for its demise. But before it goes away forever, another meeting will have to be held later this year.
“The vote was to disband in nine months unless something else comes up to prove it should exist,” Brandau said.
It’s unlikely that will happen.
And when the commission does die later this year, there will be an inheritance of sorts.
In an account jointly operated by the two cities and Fresno County was a balance of $23,000. It’s unclear why the account was created in the first place. It will be split three ways.
To Poochigian, disbanding the commission is a baby step in the right direction.
“Smaller government is a good thing,” she said.