The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors will interview six applicants for appointment to the open county clerk-recorder/elections chief position, including one from their own board’s ranks and two high-ranking officials in the Clerk-Recorder’s Office.
Those interviews, which will be public, are set for Jan. 21 in the supervisors’ chambers in the main County Administration Building at 651 Pine St. in downtown Martinez. Each interview will probably last 20 to 30 minutes, and will begin after the board’s Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration, likely in the early afternoon.
The supervisors made it clear Jan. 14 that whomever is appointed will have to be comfortable with taking what they say could become an appointed position in the next few years. It’s also possible the clerk-recorder and elections chief roles could one day be separated.
Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond said he sees an “inherent conflict” with an elected official overseeing compliance by other elected officials and candidates. An honest elections process, he said, is “truly the heart and the core of our democracy.”
During the board hearing, a handful of people implored the supervisors to try to make the elections chief job an appointed one. That change from an elected position to an appointed one would require approval by Contra Costa County voters.
“We know the trouble that campaign finances have caused,” said Suzan Requa, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley, which covers most of eastern and central Contra Costa County.
Requa was referring specifically to the troubles of former Clerk-Recorder Joe Canciamilla, who resigned abruptly in late October, one year into his second elected four-year term that ends in 2022.
About a week later, Canciamilla reached a settlement with the state Fair Political Practices Commission on 30 counts of campaign finance violations, including using $130,529 in campaign funds for personal expenses and for filing falsified records to cover it up.
It is Canciamilla’s successor whom the Board of Supervisors will select, perhaps as soon as Feb. 4. Gioia said Canciamilla’s woes have given the whole Clerk-Recorder’s Office a public relations black eye. Both he and Supervisor Diane Burgis of Brentwood said that is unwarranted, and praised the work of Canciamilla’s staff.
That praise was reflected in the supervisors on Tuesday choosing acting Clerk and Recorder Deborah Cooper of Danville and Scott Konopasek, county assistant registrar of voters, of Walnut Creek, to come in for interviews next week.
Also asked to come in for interviews are county Supervisor Karen Mitchoff of Pleasant Hill; former 16th District state Assemblywoman Catharine Baker representing parts of Contra Costa and Alameda County; political campaign consultant and former foundation CEO Mark Friedman of El Cerrito; and Kristin Connelly of Lafayette, president and CEO of the East Bay Leadership Council.
Mitchoff, who wasn’t present at the meeting, has said she intends only to serve out Canciamilla’s term if selected.
Among the 16 hopefuls not picked to move forward were several current and former City Council members in Contra Costa cities, two city clerks, two attorneys and a few other city staffers. Eight of the 22 hopefuls, including Baker, Cooper, Konopasek and Friedman, addressed the supervisors face-to-face Tuesday.
Baker, an attorney who since 2011 has worked in election and political law, is the only of the 22 applicants who doesn’t live in Contra Costa County. She lives in Dublin, “a half-mile south of Contra Costa County as the crow flies,” she said after the hearing.
Her family had been planning a move to Contra Costa after her twins finish high school in 2021, she said, but would make the move sooner if she is appointed clerk-recorder. Elected officials, or people appointed to serve out elected positions, must live in that county.