The Tracy City Council’s method for appointing commissioners led to a dispute among council members as they debated recommendations for the city’s Parks and Community Services Commission on Tuesday.
Faced with the prospect of removing two incumbent commissioners in favor of two newcomers, as recommended by a council ad-hoc committee, the City Council reached an impasse. The solution will be for the full council to review applications for the commission’s open seats and then take a vote at the council’s next meeting.
The city’s process for commission appointments is to take applications from potential commissioners each time a term expires. The council then forms an ad-hoc committee of two council members. They interview all applicants and incumbents and then make a recommendation to the full council.
This time around, four commissioners’ terms on the Parks and Community Services Commission are due to expire at the end of January, including one commissioner to be appointed by Tracy Unified School District.
The city received six applications for the other three seats, though one person withdrew before the interview process. All three incumbents applied for reappointment, including Linda Jimenez, the longest serving parks commissioner, who has been on the board since 2008; Conrad Levoit, who is at the end of his first four-year term; and Rajdeep Singh, the newest commissioner, who was appointed in April 2019.
The council assigned Veronica Vargas and Dan Arriola to interview all the applicants and recommend three for appointment.
“This is one of the more difficult ones that we’ve had to do. Every single one was qualified,” Arriola said before recommending that Jimenez be reappointed and that Jacy Krogh and Joe Taylor be appointed as new commissioners.
The recommendation effectively dismisses Levoit and Singh from their positions, which didn’t sit well with many people in the crowd at Tuesday’s meeting or with the majority of the City Council.
Taranjit Singh Sandhu advocated for Rajdeep Singh, citing his involvement in organizing events for the Sikh community, for the homeless and for the community at large.
“My concern is that he just served for one year,” Singh Sandhu said. “If he’s eligible, why not let him serve another term? If he is not eligible, that is a different story, but once we put him on the eligibility list and then say, ‘You sit here, and let the new person come in,’ that is an embarrassing situation.”
Levoit told the council that his four years on the commission gave him the opportunity to learn how to better serve the community and act as an advocate for the city’s Parks & Recreation Department.
“Parks make life better. I want to do that. I found a place in the city of Tracy as a commissioner to participate,” Levoit told the council. “I know that I did a great job. I’m not here to talk about myself. I’m here to serve the people. I’m here to serve you. I’m here to be an advocate for our staff, to give them feedback.”
Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Young and Councilwoman Rhodesia Ransom also opposed the idea of removing two incumbent commissioners.
“I really don’t want to be in a position where I’m questioning council members about who they decide to put where, but I am concerned with continuity, if there’s no real grounds for not continuing, if you just want a fresh outlook,” Young said.
“We have a short list of people in the community who are willing to do these jobs,” Ransom said. “My concern is about moving people from a place that we need good leadership, getting them all ramped up, and then saying, OK, we want to try someone new.”
Mayor Robert Rickman tried to strike a balance, stating that the recommendation was the outcome of an established process.
“Absent any evidence of bias or any evidence of unfairness, it’s hard for at least for myself, the council, to second-guess these individuals when we don’t have a chance to look at the application process,” Rickman said. “We rely on two council members to do that, and it’s been that way since I’ve been on here.”
When it came time to take a vote, Rickman also opposed the ad-hoc committee’s recommendation, but a lengthy conversation followed.
Parks & Recreation Department Director Brian MacDonald pointed out that the commission, with its own ad-hoc committee of Levoit and Singh, is reviewing applications for federal Community Development Block Grant funding, and the deadline for their recommendation fast approaching.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development distributes grant money to cities, which in turn decide which local nonprofits best exemplify the purpose of the federal grants.
The parks commission makes its recommendations for local grants in early February, and the City Council formalizes the grants in March. Last year, the funding added up to more than $71,000, including money for Tracy Interfaith Ministries, Chest of Hope’s emergency shelter and meals, McHenry House Tracy Family Shelter, the Women’s Center of San Joaquin County, the Coalition of Tracy Citizens to Assist the Homeless, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tracy, San Joaquin Fair Housing Agency, Tracy Community Connections Center and Tracy Seniors Association.
That added a sense of urgency for the council to make a decision, but Vargas and Arriola stood by their recommendation.
“The council has the ability to ignore, altogether, our recommendation. So go ahead and ignore it,” Vargas said, stating that if the council wanted to start over with a new ad-hoc committee and a new round of applications and interviews, it should do so.
“If it is an issue of how we did this process, or a lack of confidence on how we did this, I would probably not volunteer again to be on the subcommittee, because there’s obviously a lack of confidence that we’re able to do this job.”
Arriola said that he and Vargas treated each applicant equally, regardless of whether they had served on the commission before. He said Krogh and Jimenez had the strongest applications and best responses in the interviews.
“It wasn’t personal. It wasn’t political. It was very objective on our part and in our analysis, and I hope we can proceed,” Arriola said.
Vargas added, “We thought we were doing a good job and giving to the council the best applicants that we could to help us achieve the jobs that we have. It is a little disappointing to hear that, because we took the job seriously and we’re giving you guys the best applicants, based on the written applications and the interviews.
Ransom’s motion to simply reappoint all the incumbent commissioners also failed, with Rickman abstaining on that vote.
The council finally agreed on a unanimous vote that it would invite all of the applicants to present their qualifications to the full council at a special meeting before the next regular council meeting Feb. 4. At that time, the full council will vote on who to appoint to the commission.