Archive for the ‘Contra Costa County’ Category

Contra Costa Supervisors select first African-American and female District Attorney Diana Becton

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Diane Becton. Courtesy of

By Daniel Borsuk

On an initial split vote, Contra Costa County Supervisors picked Superior Court Judge Diana Becton to complete the nine remaining months of former Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson on Tuesday.

Supervisors initially made their preferences known on a 3-2 split vote, to pick Becton from a field of five well-qualified competitors, for the top county criminal prosecutor post that pays $21,415 a month. Supervisors John Gioia of Richmond who represents District 1 and Diane Burgis chose Becton, while Candace Andersen and Karen Mitchoff chose Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves. Board Chair Federal Glover broke the tie and stated his preference for Becton.

A few minutes later, supervisors voted to unanimously approve the selection of Becton as interim DA.

She has announced her retirement as judge in order to assume the DA position next Monday.

Becton, the first African American female judge to be selected by former California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, will now become the first African American and first female in history to be in charge of the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, an office marred by scandal, most recently the June resignation of Peterson for illegally spending of $66,000 of his campaign funds over a five-year period for personal use, then not disclosing it on finance reports.  In 2008, the county DA office was rocked when deputy prosecutor Michael Gressett was charged with allegedly raping a female DA colleague.

Graves, who had won the endorsement from the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Association and most all of the police officers associations in the county, has already announced his candidacy to run for the DA office in the June election. Santa Clara County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier, another applicant for the interim post, has also announced his candidacy.  Vanier, who is running on a campaign of conducting a “comprehensive audit” of the department, did not draw a vote from any supervisor.

In addition to Vanier, Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Danielle Douglas, a former San Francisco prosecutor, did not attract any votes from supervisors, either.  Douglas portrayed a conservative management “if it isn’t broken don’t fix it” style that may have turned off supervisors.

During the public hearing prior to the supervisors’ vote, Becton had scored the most support from 20 out of 40 speakers, many who had acknowledged the judge’s 22 years of criminal courtroom experience and progressive views about bail reform and the need to decrease the rising number of BART crimes, gang and freeway shootings.  Becton also earned the endorsement of the NAACP clergy, following the East County Branch’s public interview of the five applicants, last Saturday.

On the topic of plagiarizing material for her application for the post Becton admitted, “I did liberally copy from all sorts of sources.  I own those mistakes. But you have to look at my 22 years of service in this county of working with integrity to improve our criminal justice system.”

She also stated that she didn’t think U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) would have a problem with Becton’s use of her words.

Under questioning from supervisor Andersen, Contra Costa County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Kensok, a 30-year veteran of the DA office, also admitted he had copied material in his application without identifying his sources.

“I should have put in quotation marks, but I did not think of it,” he said. “There was no intent to deceive.  I’m sorry for the way it came out.”

So far Becton has not stated whether she will run in the 2018 election campaign for the full-time position.

Sheriff David Livingston chipped in a recommendation that supervisors might want to develop a duo DA position with Beckton/Kensok holding the post in a caretaking status until the June election. That idea did not draw any reaction from supervisors.

“There is need for change.  The department needs to be transparent,” said Glover of Pittsburg, who represents District 5. “We want the department to think differently, and Judge Beckton can bring that.”

On the initial vote, District 4 Supervisor Mitchoff voted for Graves because of his “integrity and extensive prosecution experience.” Later on the supervisor joined her colleagues to make the appointment of Becton unanimous on a second vote.

Andersen of Danville, who represents District 2, had also initially voted for Graves, but later voted to support Judge Becton. “We need to have a person who can restore public trust, public safety, and protect the mentally ill who enter our criminal justice system,” she said in support of Graves.

District 5 Supervisor Burgis of Oakley said, “My first choice is Judge Diane Becton.”  Burgis said Becton will promote diversity and that “she’s earned the trust of our community.”

Supervisors to Consider Rubicon Contract

In a related matter, supervisors will get an update at their Tuesday, Sept. 19 meeting on the status of a $408,750 contract with the non-profit ex-felon organization Rubicon Programs, Inc.

With the contract expiring at the end of September, a political tiff has developed between Livingston and Gioia, who had opposed the recently approved $70 million West County Detention Jail expansion in north Richmond, a major project of the sheriff.

The problem is the CCP panel is not scheduled to convene until November, too late to renew the Rubicon Contract for the West County Reentry Success Center.

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Nominate someone who has made a difference in the arts in Contra Costa County by Sept 28

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

The Arts & Culture Commission of Contra Costa County (AC5) is seeking nominations for the 2017 Arts Recognition Awards. AC5 is celebrating its 20th Anniversary of honoring those who have made a significant artistic or philanthropic contribution to the communities in the County. The Commissioners ask that you nominate someone you feel is deserving of this award.

The nominees must be, or have been, an active supporter of arts and culture, with sustained contributions and work, that has had a far-reaching impact.  

Consider those you feel have made a difference in visual arts, music, performing arts, dance digital arts or arts education for this award. Other worthy candidates might be those who have shown exceptional leadership, vision and commitment to the growth and support of arts and culture, or organizations that have kept the arts alive through continuous or significant financial support.

Please visit  for more details and to submit nominations online.

The nomination period closes at midnight on Thursday, September 28, 2017.

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East County NAACP Branch to hold public interviews of applicants for Interim DA, Saturday Sept. 9

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

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New County Sustainability Commission to help Supervisors make Contra Costa cleaner, healthier

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

Includes one Antioch resident; next Mmeting Monday, August 28

The Contra Costa County Sustainability Commission will hold its second meeting on Monday, August 28, 2017, 5-7 p.m., at 30 Muir Road, Martinez. The Board of Supervisors created the Sustainability Commission earlier this year to advise the Board and County staff on how to make Contra Costa County healthier and reduce pollution, important goals of the County’s Climate Action Plan.  The agenda for the meeting can be found here.

Thirty-five people applied for the 10 seats on the Sustainability Commission. Given the high level of interest and the opportunity to include more voices, the Board of Supervisors created an additional At-Large seat and allowed each Supervisor to appoint an alternate from his or her district. The 15 members and alternates of the Sustainability Commission appointed to date come from across the County and represent a range of interests and professional experience.  The members include:

Nick Despota, Member, District 1. Nick Despota, a longtime resident of Richmond, has served on numerous commissions and non-profit boards. His professional career has included video production, writing for educational media, and web design. After retiring in 2016, he began volunteering with an environmental organization to develop its online media presence. Nick currently leads the communication team for the Alameda Chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. 

Victoria Smith, Member, District 2. Victoria Smith is the former Mayor of Orinda and longtime City Council Member. Victoria served as Chair of the Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority, RecycleSmart, which provides recycling, reuse and garbage services to the cities of Orinda, Lafayette, Moraga, Walnut Creek, Danville, and central Contra Costa County.  Victoria is a graduate of UC Berkeley and UC Hastings College of the Law, and practices real estate law.

Reid Edwards, Alternate, District 2. Reid Edwards is a retired senior public affairs executive who worked for many years on all aspects of energy and environmental issues, both locally and in Washington, D.C. He resides in Lafayette and has lived in Contra Costa County, with short interruptions, since 1963. He currently volunteers with a number of local institutions including White Pony Express and the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. 

John Sierra, Member, District 3. John Sierra teaches AP Environmental Science and was the Freedom High School teacher of the year in 2013.  He is actively involved with multiple community organizations and frequently takes his students on adventures near and far including Yosemite and Nicaragua.  John is dedicated to protecting natural resources while creating a healthy living environment for all.

Gretchen Logue, Alternate, District 3. Gretchen Logue is dedicated to community civic engagement, and has a lifelong passion for environmental sustainability.  She is the co-founder of the Tassajara Valley Preservation Association, an organization dedicated to the sustainability of Contra Costa County.  In addition to serving as a board member on the Tassajara Hills Foundation, fundraising for educational programs, this mother of three is also a California Naturalist.

Wes Sullens, Member, District 4. Wes Sullens, LEED Fellow, is the Director of Codes Technical Development at the US Green Building Council.  Prior to joining USGBC, Mr. Sullens worked for a local government agency in Alameda County, California (StopWaste), where he provided green codes advocacy, building and product standards development, and green building policy support. Previous to StopWaste, he was an energy and sustainability consultant at a prominent firm in the US.

Travis Curran, Alternate, District 4. A lifelong environmentalist, Travis Curran has spent the past 11 years working in adult mental health.  The Administrator at Crestwood Healing Center in Pleasant Hill, Travis led a sustainability project that transformed facility practices, saving over 2 million gallons of water, and earning a green certification and multiple green awards in the process.  Travis is passionate about waste reduction, and the preservation and protection of our state and national parks.

Charles Davidson, Member, District 5. Charles was the lead community organizer for MoveOn East Bay during the housing crisis. He then became involved with 350BayArea and helped found the Sunflower Alliance, organizing for climate and environmental justice issues, opposing multiple planned large-scale toxic tar sands refinery expansion projects, and lobbying for Community Choice Energy and a fossil-free and inexpensive clean energy future.  Charles has studied cancer biology and medical physics at the graduate school level and holds a US patent in advanced medical imaging. 

Mark Thomson, Alternate, District 5.  Long-time Martinez resident Mark Thomson is Co-President of the John Muir Association, which works closely with the National Park Service to share the legacy of John Muir.  Mark is also Co-Facilitator of Thousand Friends of Martinez, an organization dedicated to defending parks, creeks, wetlands, open space and historic elements in the Martinez area. Mark has previously volunteered with the Boy Scouts, Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center, and other organizations. His professional background is in Information Technology.

Howdy Goudey, At-Large, Community Group.  Howdy Goudey has an Engineering Physics degree from UC Berkeley and has worked for 24 years in the research and development of energy efficient buildings, particularly windows, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He has also been a member of the City of El Cerrito Environmental Quality Committee for 9 years, as well as a volunteer with community gardens and native habitat restoration.

Harry Thurston, At-Large, Community Group.   Antioch resident Harry Thurston is committed to furthering sustainable resource usage by Contra Costa County and the municipalities within. He received formal training in sustainable resource usage from Humboldt State University, receiving a BS in Forestry. He put this knowledge into practice as a Peace Corps volunteer, followed by 10 years of Commercial Forestry practice, receiving California certification as a Registered Professional Forester.  Most recently, over the last several years, he has been leading the East Contra Costa effort to implement a Community Choice Energy program for the County’s unincorporated area and for the incorporated municipalities within the County. Harry is a member of the Contra Costa Clean Energy Alliance.

Kathy Cutting, At-Large, Business.  Kathy Cutting is a Bay Area native, settling in Oakley in 1989, where she raised her family.  Over the last 20 years she has enjoyed working as a residential landscape designer promoting sustainable land options for homeowners.  As an alumna of Cal State East Bay, Kathy now works at the University’s Concord Campus, where she is a liaison for all sustainability programs within the Concord campus community. 

Nicholas Snyder, At-Large, Business. Nicholas Snyder is a Senior Analyst at Tierra Resource Consultants, an energy and natural resource consulting firm in Walnut Creek.  Most recently, he has served as a lead on the funding and financing of energy efficiency, renewables, and energy storage.  Before joining Tierra, he interned at Contra Costa County Climate Leaders and the Energy Division of the California Public Utilities Commission, where he supported regulatory oversight of the Energy Watch, Regional Energy Network, and Community Choice Energy programs.

Doria Robinson, At-Large, Environmental Justice.  Doria is third generation resident of Richmond, California and the Executive Director of Urban Tilth, a community based organization rooted in Richmond dedicated to cultivating urban agriculture to help the community build a more sustainable, healthy, and just food system. Doria is trained as a Watershed Restoration Ecologist, and is a Certified Permaculture Designer, Certified Bay Friendly Gardener, a Certified Nutrition Educator, and a Certified Yoga Instructor and the founder of Sanctuary Yoga. She was recognized as Environmental Advocate of the Year for Contra Costa County and as Woman of the Year for Contra Costa County in 2010. In 2011, she was presented with a Community Resiliency Leadership Award from Bay Localize.

Scott Warfe, At-Large, Education.  Scott Warfe is an Assistant Professor of English and Developmental Education Lead at Los Medanos College. In addition to work in the English Department, Scott is also one of the founders of the LMC Food Pantry and volunteers with The Trinity Center, which serves homeless and working poor people in East Contra Costa County. 

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Contra Costa prosecutors endorse their colleague Paul Graves for Interim DA

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Contra Costa Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves. photo courtesy of Paul Graves for DA

The Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney’s Association has endorsed Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves for the position of Interim District Attorney of Contra Costa County. 

On Friday, August 18th, 2017, the Contra Costa County District Attorneys’ Association, made up of over 80 criminal prosecutors, voted for the endorsement.

Paul Graves distinguished himself as a leader when he stepped forward to run for election against Mr. Peterson, a sitting incumbent at the time, despite the great professional risk he was taking, because it was the right thing to do,” said Aron DeFerrari, President of the DA’s Association.

“Our prosecutors are currently working on hundreds of cases and the interim DA will immediately have immense responsibilities to manage these cases,” added Simon O’Connell, a member of the District Attorneys’ Association Board. “Paul Graves’ experience managing and leading prosecutors gives us full confidence in his ability to keep those cases on track until voters choose the next District Attorney.”

Amongst a field of five candidates seeking the appointment, Paul Graves has distinguished himself in both public forums, his written applications and, perhaps most importantly, his actions and proven integrity as a veteran prosecutor for the last 22 years.

With the support of almost every police association, nonprofit and community based organizations Graves has worked with throughout the years, and the endorsement of the East Bay Times, “We are tremendously proud to endorse Paul Graves, he is a truly talented prosecutor, a proven leader in the law enforcement community and, perhaps most importantly, a person of genuine character and integrity – what we need most right now in our office” said Lauren Whalen, a DA’s Association Board Member and young prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office.

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Unhappy with Supervisors’ appointment process, coalition sends Interim DA applicants questionnaire; will hold forum Aug. 12

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

Demand transparent, qualifications-based process to avoid conflicts of interest, secret deals

A press release issued on Friday, states “a community coalition of organizations and individual voters from Contra Costa County called on all candidates for the interim District Attorney position to complete a public questionnaire about where they stand on a variety of issues that matter to the organizations, ranging from bail practices and criminal justice reform, immigrant rights, worker and consumer protection to police accountability and the environment. The coalition issued the questionnaire after the Board of Supervisors failed to adopt a fully transparent and community-first process at their August 1 meeting. This coalition is also working with local organizations and volunteers to host a candidate forum on Saturday, August 12, in Concord.”

Of the twelve applicants, the Supervisors narrowed the field to five. (See related article, here).

The responses to the questionnaire will be made public before the forum.

View the questionnaire, here: CoCo Interim DA Community Questionnaire_FINAL

WHAT: Contra Costa Interim District Attorney Candidate Forum

WHEN: Saturday, August 12, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

WHERE: Church of the Nazarene at 1650 Ashbury Dr., Concord, CA

WHO: The forum is co-hosted by the ACLU of Northern California; Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE); Contra Costa AFL-CIO Central Labor Council; Contra Costa County Racial Justice Coalition (CCCRJC); Courage Campaign; #cut50; Democratic Party of Contra Costa County; East County NAACP; Safe Return Project; and Smart Justice California

According to their website, the ACCE “is a grassroots, member-led, statewide community organization working with more than 10,000 members across California…dedicated to raising the voices of everyday Californians, neighborhood by neighborhood, to fight for the policies and programs we need to improve our communities and create a brighter future” such as raising taxes on businesses and individuals to increase funding for education, working to preserve and expand affordable housing, and “raise the floor on wages and benefits.”

On the CCCRJC website it states that the organization is opposed to the expansion of the West County Detention Center.

The Courage Campaign states on their website that it “fights for a more progressive California and country” by focusing on three priorities of economic justice, human rights, and corporate and political accountability.

The mission of #cut50 is to “making communities safer while reducing the number of people in our prisons and jails.”

The press release also states that, “at a public hearing on August 1, the coalition pleaded with the County Board of Supervisors to adopt an open and transparent selection process for choosing the interim District Attorney that includes a community selection committee. The coalition urged the Board to avoid conflicts of interest by revealing whether they have ever received an endorsement or monetary support from any of the candidates, and pressed the supervisors to develop a system for ranking the candidates based on their qualifications and alignment with local values, over a consensus-based decision-making model that could be swayed by backroom deals. The coalition had previously sent a letter requesting similar action to the Board on July 6th, which was never acknowledged.”

A spokesperson for the coalition, Director of Contra Costa County Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) David Sharples, said, “We want a district attorney who reflects the values of Contra Costa voters. The selection process should focus on whether each candidate is qualified for the job, aligns with local values, has the highest level of ethical standards, and is ready to take on the challenges faced by our community, not the candidate who is the most well-connected. If the board won’t be transparent about this process, then we will go straight to the candidates so they have every opportunity to explain where they stand on the issues and why they are the best candidate.”

The coalition’s press release concluded with the following: “Contra Costa voters have bucked the position of their District Attorney and repeatedly voted for meaningful criminal justice reform over the last several elections. In 2012, 72 percent of county residents voted in favor of Proposition 36, which reformed California’s Three Strikes Law; in 2014, 66 percent of voters supported Proposition 47, which substantially reduced the penalties for several crimes; in 2016, 69 percent voted in favor of Proposition 57, which significantly expanded early parole opportunities for people serving time in California prisons; and 61 percent voted in favor of Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana and retroactively invalidated several types of prior marijuana-related criminal convictions.”

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Supervisors plan to appoint Interim DA by Sept. 19 draws criticism

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Ordinance on illegal Solid waste collection postponed

By Daniel Borsuk

With the field of interim Contra Costa County District Attorney candidates pared down from 12 to 5, Contra Costa County Supervisors on Tuesday are determined to select an interim DA by Sept. 19 even in the face of increasing public criticism over the selection process.

On a 5-0 vote supervisors selected for further consideration Contra Costa Judge Diana Beckton, Contra Costa Judge Daniella Douglas, Contra Costa Assistant District Attorney Tom Kensok, Contra Costa Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves and Santa Clara Supervising Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier.

Candidates not making the cut were former Contra Costa prosecutor and current private attorney David Brown, San Francisco deputy district attorney John Delgado, Contra Costa Bar Association Criminal Conflict Program Attorney William Green, private attorney Richard Madsen Jr., San Francisco assistant DA since 1996 Michael Menesini, Stanislaus County Prosecutor Brad Nix, and 50-year prosecutor veteran with the Alameda and Los Angeles DA offices Michael Roemer.

With the two judges as candidates, supervisors learned there might be a potential legal barrier where Judge Beckton and Judge Douglas might be found in violation of a state conflict of interest ruling that a sitting Superior Court justice cannot simultaneously serve as a county DA.  The supervisors decided to have each judge weigh in on whether they are in violation of the state conflict of interest law during the upcoming August 15 finalist interviews.

Supervisors forged ahead showing scant concern that there could potentially be a court injunction filed blocking their process to fill the $258,181 a year DA post that was vacated in mid-June when then DA Mark Peterson resigned from office after pleading in Contra Costa Superior Court to 15 felony charges that he illegally spent $66,000 of campaign funds for personal use.

In exchange for a no contest plea Peterson was sentenced to three years probation.  State prosecutors dropped 11 other counts of perjury and one count of grand theft.  The State Bar of California took steps to disbar Peterson last week.

Critics accused supervisors of privately meeting or consulting with interim DA candidates and some opponents said it is pointless to appoint a short-term DA when county voters could be electing a new DA next year.

“There is no need for the board to appoint an interim DA within a year of an election,” protested Marcie Garrett of El Cerrito.

“The Democratic Party of Contra Costa County calls for the board of supervisors to delay action to another date,” said Maria Alegria, chair of the county Democratic Party.

Alegria said the board needs to do more work to screen candidates because of the county DA office’s history of misconduct.  She referred to the recent Peterson case and the 2008 rape case involving DA Michael Gressett, who was accused of raping a junior DA colleague that resulted in a $450,000 out of court settlement.

Mainly because of the DA office’s track record, Walnut Creek resident Julie Davis commented, “I prefer that you consider candidates not in the Contra Costa District Attorney Office.  I’d prefer candidates from outside.  Your selection process is long, yet needs more transparency.”

Concerned about the rising human trafficking situation in the county, Judith Tannenbaum pitched to supervisors that they need to select Contra Costa Office Deputy Senior DA Paul Graves because of his work combatting human trafficking.

Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger representing the Contra Costa Police Chiefs Association encouraged supervisors to select an interim DA who will cooperate with police departments.  “Whoever you choose make sure your choice will work with us,” he said.

District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff of Pleasant Hill attempted to defended the transparency criticism lodged against the board.  “This is a transparent process the board is using.  Everything is online,” she said.

Mitchoff also said state law requires the board of supervisors to appoint an interim DA under the circumstances the county faces.

“This is a challenging situation and ultimately the people of Contra Costa county will have to decide who will be their DA,” said District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen of Danville.

“We’re not going to please everyone, but I look for someone who will defend racial justice, is fair, shows leadership style, and can move forward,” Board Chair Federal Glover of Pittsburg added.

Supervisor Mitchoff was surprised to learn that the Bay Area Newspaper Group had filed in the past two days a public records request that the county disclose personal information that the five finalists provided in their applications.   The newspaper group had complained the county had redacted personal information and that it should now be public information.  That information will now be unredacted.

Ordinance on Illegal Solid Waste Collection Postponed

In other business, supervisors postponed action until their August 15 meeting on a proposed ordinance that would take aim at cracking down on the illegal solid waste collection and transportation operations in the unincorporated area of Contra Costa County.

The county environmental health department has identified more than 41 illegal solid waste transfer stations located in both incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county and 32 of those operations have been closed down, since early 2015.

In order to regulate the solid waste collection industry, the Contra Costa Environmental Health Department has been developing an ordinance where persons engaged in this business in the county would be required to apply for permits, have collection and transport vehicles undergo inspections, and operators must post bond.

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Supervisors narrow list of Interim District Attorney applicants to five

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

County to Host Public Forum on Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Five applicants remain under consideration to serve as the Interim District Attorney for Contra Costa County. The Board of Supervisors found all 12 applicants to be highly qualified, but during its August 1, 2017, public meeting, decided that only five individuals would move on to the next stage of the selection process. The finalists will be invited to participate in a moderated discussion to be held on Tuesday, August 15, beginning at 6:00 p.m. The public will have an opportunity to provide comments in advance beginning at 5:00 p.m.

The five applicants continuing in the process are: Diana Becton, Danielle Douglas, Paul Graves, Thomas Kensok and Patrick Vanier. Application materials for all 12 of the original applicants are available online. Background investigations will now be conducted on the five finalists. (See related article.)

At the public forum on August 15, a discussion with the applicants will take place, moderated by former Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder Steve Weir. The forum will be held in the Board of Supervisors Chamber at 651 Pine Street in Martinez. While the public will have an opportunity to offer questions and comments that evening, you can also provide your input electronically prior to the event. Find out how at the District Attorney Recruitment Information website. If you are unable to attend the forum in person, it will also be televised live on CCTV and streamed live online.

The June 14 resignation of Mark Peterson from the position of District Attorney created a vacancy that will extend until the current term of office expires on January 7, 2019. The next election for the District Attorney will take place in June of 2018, with a potential runoff election in November of 2018.

Following the August 15th public forum, the Board of Supervisors will interview the final applicants at the September 12th public meeting; a decision could be made that day, or possibly at the following meeting on September 19, 2017.

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