Following split vote during contentious Contra Costa Supervisors appointment of new member as vice chair, board reverses course two weeks later

Supervisors Ken Carlson and Candace Andersen debate the appointment of the Board Vice Chairperson during the Oct. 3, 2023 meeting. Video screenshots.

Rotate in a current, female member or appoint a new and the first openly gay male member of the board were choices offered

Carlson requested revote not wanting “anyone to feel marginalized” and for the “rotation of the representation of our districts”

Andersen instead appointed Vice Chair for 2024

By Allen D. Payton

Identity politics were center stage during their meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, when the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors held a contentious discussion and vote on appointing new member, District 4 Supervisor Ken Carlson as vice chair instead of District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen. Both she and District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis wanted Andersen in the position who argued it was a matter of rotation from district to district and appointing a woman versus a man. But the three men outvoted the two women and appointed Carlson, as the first openly gay member to one of the board’s two leadership positions, as pointed out repeatedly by current Board Chair and District 1 Supervisor John Gioia.

All five supported District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover to be appointed board chair for the coming year.

But then during their much Oct. 17th meeting at the request of Supervisor Carlson, the board reconsidered appointing him Vice Chairperson with a much more conciliatory discussion.

“I appreciate the opportunity to bring this back for further discussion. I want to share my appreciation and gratitude to those who reached out. I appreciate all the opinions and all the thoughts that came to me, and everyone was heard,” he stated. “Prior to our October 3rd meeting Chair Gioia called me to let me know there is this tradition of a board proving an incoming supervisor an opportunity to be the Chair in their first term and therefor he was going to move my name forward as vice chair.”

“You know, I was honored and had no reason to believe that it would become controversial,” Carlson continued. “I came to the original discussion with an open mind and goal to work collaboratively across this board. But when identity was brought up I got emotional. I got protective. I have a responsibility to represent District 4. But being the first openly LGBTQ member of this board, I feel a greater obligation as well, to respect, represent and protect the LGBTQ community, my community. So, it’s never been, it never will be my intention in any work I do but here at the board specifically, to make anyone feel marginalized. I know what that feels like. So, I don’t want our work to do that.”

“This board has done a tremendous job over the last several years working to make our communities more inclusive and more accepting and we need to continue that work. There’s more to be done,” Carlson stated. “What I did get out of this was there’s no specific rotation. But it has been a female dominated board for the past 16 years until I came along, and I feel like I’m being very disruptive. The new guy comes and changes things and the dynamic. But it did show a disparity in the rotation of the representation of our districts. And that is really important to me.”

“Right now, across this country…we’ve seen what political polarization can do and how it impacts the work we actually can get accomplished,” he continued. “So, I think it’s very important that we are better than that. So, I apologize and want to make it very well known I want to work together, collaboratively because that’s how I think we’re going to accomplish more.”

Gioia then offered his thoughts saying, “When we all walked into our meeting two weeks ago…there were different interpretations…into how the board implemented its rotation policy. Unfortunately, the language turned into more personal…and we focused on the differences than how do we work together. Several of  us…did not agree with the framing and characterization that this was a men versus female thing. I think that is unfortunate.”

Glover spoke next saying, “I think it’s important that we recognize this board has worked collaboratively as a whole. Being someone who has been marginalized down through the years I certainly want to speak to the fact that we do need equity and we do need fairness.”

Burgis spoke next and said, “I always look at how do we prevent this from happening in the future. One of the things that Contra Costa County has a reputation for is to have a collaborative board. For me, again it was about districts. What I would like to make sure is that…I celebrate Ken. I supported him right from the bat. I’m so proud that we do have an LGBTQ leader and a really good human being and a smart person and someone that cares about the community. But I also wanted to stand up for my district. It did dissolve…sometimes we get defensive, or we get hurt feelings and anger turns into energy because we feel vulnerable and that’s what we saw. But I’m so proud of this board and appreciate that we can fix things because we can model that for the rest of the world.”

“Ken, I do want to thank you for bringing this back,” Andersen stated. “I know everyone on this board has been hearing from a lot of people…who also said there was a clear rotation. Trades took place but by assent, by agreement, by people cooperatively saying we want to make this change. It was collaborative. It was something we all agreed to. There’s certainty and there’s fairness. I was very, very surprised that my position, Diane’s position in rotation had been offered up to honor Ken. And I agree there are many, many ways we can honor Ken as the first openly gay member of this board. But I was uncomfortable that my turn in the rotation had been offered to him without any discussion to me, without any approach to me.”

“We have always worked collaboratively the majority of our votes have been 5-0 votes,” she continued. “So, I appreciate this is coming back…and to Ken, thank you for helping us right the board that was sort of spinning of our axis. I will always put the good of the county, the good of the board ahead of my feelings. Of course, I’m hopeful that we will be voting to go back to the original rotation.”

“I’m just looking at the facts of the chart,” Gioia added. “Under the Brown Act we can’t talk to each other. That’s what also creates the issue and makes it hard.”

“This was to me not a female, male, LGBTQ, straight, whatever kind of issue,” said Burgis. “This was about each district has an opportunity to be represented in the chair position and it should rotate every five years. I’m hoping that we can go back to this rotation.”

Carlson then made “the motion to nominate Supervisor Candace Andersen to be our Vice Chair in 2024.”

It was seconded by Burgis.

Following several public comments, Burgis responded to one of them saying, “It’s about equity for all the districts…so we can provide the services in all the districts.”

“When we were called misogynistic..I think that was totally out of bounds,” Gioia added. “That was a serious comment to make.”

“I’m going to try to do better, and I think all of us want to do better,” Burgis responded.

“Would you have brought this forward if we were both men?” Andersen asked. “It was the totality of the circumstances that made me, as a woman feel marginalized and feel that this was more than just a political decision which troubled me that we were even having, it be a political decision.”

“And as I said, I look forward to Ken continuing to be recognized for his status as the first openly gay member of this board,” she continued. “And I’m hoping that all we’ve been through is going to lead to much more positive ways of communicating where none of us feel marginalized. When we represent a district we know what the needs are.”

“I respect yours and everybody’s point of view on all of this,” Gioia responded.

The vote followed and the motion passed unanimously 5-0.

Board Chair John Gioia reacts as he listens to Supervisor Diane Burgis during discussion of the vice chair appointment on Tuesday, October 3, 2023. Video screenshot

October 3rd Meeting Board Discussion and Vote

“Over the last 20 years, there’s been a practice of moving the vice chair into the chair’s position. That has been done every year,” said Board Chair Gioia. “The vice chair we rotate amongst members so that the person who had it most distant past…rotates into the position of vice chair, then we insert the newly elected person into the rotation. They generally become the chair in their third or fourth year in office.”

“Actually, that’s not how it worked for me…you guys skipped me completely and I was fine with that,” District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis said.

“Burgis became chair in her fifth year in office,” Gioia confirmed. “Of the seven new vice chairs one became chair in her fifth year and the other six became chair in their third or fourth year.”

“Can I also point out that in the last 10 years District 3 has been chair one time?” Burgis pointed out.

“District 1 has been Chair three times, District 2 two times, District 3 one time, District 4 three times and District 5 two times,” she added. “In the last 10 years.”

Burgis then moved to have District 2 be the vice chair.

“And I would make Federal chair. He has been vice chair, now three years,” said District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen.

“Yes,” Burgis responded.

“And I would second that motion,” Andersen added.

“One of the hallmarks of this board is that we have sort of followed a rotation and one of respect…that we act with decorum, and we’ve been respectful of each other,” she continued. “I think it’s important we not come up with sort of a new system, or what someone might perceive as gamesmanship to alter that order.”

“I’ll say it…I think there are two practices that have gone on…that we rotate among existing board members based on who had it least…longest who would be Supervisor Andersen who is next up,” Gioia responded. “But we also have a practice over 20 years of incorporating new members. So, it is an uncontroverted fact that over 20 years new board members come into the rotation and that causes the individual who would normally get it of existing board members to wait an extra year.”

“Why didn’t you advocate for that for me when I was new on the board if that was an important thing?” Burgis asked.

“I don’t recall the discussion why that happened,” Gioia said.

“I do,” Andersen interjected. “It was agreed that a new member, there is a firehose of information, there is a learning curve, and it makes most sense to have a new member to have that person to rotate to the end of the progression so that by the time they reach that chair position they will have a much better understanding of the issues in the county.”

Andersen then made an emphatic plea to be appointed vice chair for the next 12 months.

“Since I’ve been on this board for the last…11 years never once have we suggested that we bring someone in new,” she continued.

Speaking to Carlson, Andersen stated, “I like Ken. Ken, you’re wonderful, I’m delighted you’re on the Board. But to sort of say to these women on this board, ‘we’re going to push you back a little further’ to me is a little disingenuous in this current climate that we’re in. As I look at the strides women make to have men on the board say, ‘nope. You know what? It’s really your turn but we’re not going to let you have your turn.’ And one of the policies that is articulated in this is that while we’re in a four-year term we have the opportunity to have a leadership opportunity. I will be missing that if you skip over me and tell me I do not get my term as vice chair and my term as chair the following year in this four-year term I will not have that opportunity and I will be very concerned if we move in that direction.”

Burgis then said, “I just thought we would continue the process based on the rotation. I do feel that each district, whoever is representing them, that they do have the benefit of having a chair. To me the rotation is not only the person but it’s also the district. So, my expectation was that District 2 would be the vice chair next year…and that would put us back into the rotation.”

Gioia then reiterated his early comments about the practices over the past 20 years saying, “The new Supervisor has been inserted into the rotation in their third or fourth year in office.”

Carlson was elected last year and will be in his second year in office, next year.

At Gioia’s request Burgis restated her motion to appoint Glover chair and Andersen vice chair.

“If you look at that, while a new supervisor may have been brought in, the districts were fairly consistent,” Andersen stated reading off the order, “5, 4, 1, 2, 3, then 5, 3, 1, 2, 4. That is my concern.”

“There will be some that say, and I agree, that we have our first, also gay supervisor, out openly gay LGBT member,” Gioia stated. “There will be some that would say that ‘it is time an LGBT member is chair of our board’. And I believe that either approach is consistent with practice. There’s not some hard, fast rule and anyone that says there’s a hard fast rule, they’re wrong.”

“In the last 20 years you have served six times,” Burgis pointed out.

“Well, I’m also the longest serving member of the board,” Gioia responded.

Referring to a list of chairs and vice chairs over the last 23 years Gioia said she requested, Burgis reiterated, “No, no, no. I’m saying District 1 has been the chair six times, District 2 five times, District 3 four times, District 4 five times and District 5 four times. District 1 has definitely benefited.”

“Diane, let me be really clear. Let’s do the math,” Gioia responded while raising his voice. “All of us, generally have become chair every four years or so. I’m in my 25th year. If you divide that by four that comes out to about…six times. I’m not getting it more than…you’re characterizing it that I’m getting it more than I should be getting it. That is untrue.”

“My point, one of them has been, each district gets an opportunity. Not each person. Each district, not each person, is usually what it is,” Burgis responded. “I didn’t want to turn this into a fight. I just thought…”

“The rotation,” Andersen interjected. “I think we have all, since I’ve been on the board, there’s been a rotation. Here, on a county board of supervisors, where we each represent over 200,000 people…we each deserve an opportunity, in our right time, to be chair,” she continued. “And by skipping over someone I think you do lose…the opportunity for that district to have their voice heard in a different way.”

“Like I said, I love that Ken is on this board, I appreciate that he represents so well the LBGTQ community,” Andersen stated. “But to me, it’s the representation of our districts and given that District 4 was represented I’d like to suggest Ken rotate in at the appropriate time.”

Gioia then made a substitute motion, “that Supervisor Glover become chair and Supervisor Carlson become vice chair.”

“I’ll second that,” Carlson said.

“Let me say why I made that motion,” Gioia shared. “The person who had it the farthest back is top on the last and that would be Supervisor Andersen. Over the history on this chart, new members occasionally push down an existing member for a year. I respectfully disagree that you’re saying that this is out of rotation. The bottom line is it’s up to three members of this board. And I do think it’s about time that an LGBT member become chair of our board. We’ve never had one.”

“Appointing Ken as vice chair gets him into the rotation, the same year that Supervisor Bonilla and Supervisor Piepho became chair which was their third year in office,” he argued. “So, it’s not out of practice.”

“It’s out of district and that is the big difference,” Andersen reiterated. “There was some significant changes. Mark DeSaulnier was elected to the Assembly. That’s when Susan Bonilla came in.”

Gioia cut her off saying, “there’s a motion let’s go to public comments.”

Burgis then asked for clarification about the process for making motions and substitute motions.

County staff responded, “generally, the board’s practice is you vote on the second motion, first.”

Carlson then said, “Little did I know I would be the topic, when I came in this morning.”

Gioia then interjected, “I’m trying to show…respect within this rotation.

“John, you speak on behalf of women, often,” Burgis stated. “So, I would have thought you would have spoken up on behalf of me if that was such an important…” referring to her waiting until her fifth year on the board before being appointed chair.

“I don’t recall the disagreement,” Gioia shared.

“I don’t think it was ever discussed,” Burgis responded.

“Another woman got it instead of you, Diane,” Gioia stated. “That was Supervisor Andersen. So, I don’t understand. Supervisor Andersen was the chair the year before you. So, I’m not sure of the argument.”

“As we’ve had these discussions, John, ever since I’ve been in office it has been with a rotation,” Andersen reiterated. “It has never been an equity. It has been the camaraderie of this board and it is breaking rotation and there is no other way to say it. What you’re essentially saying to Diane and myself, ‘you have to go behind the men on this board’ and I will that because that is exactly what is happening.”

“You’re welcome to say that. That’s not what we did last time. In the year Supervisor Burgis said she would have been chair in 2020 it was Supervisor Andersen,” Gioia responded. “There wasn’t a favor of a man over a woman.”

“It was because she was newly elected,” Andersen responded. “Similarly, it was assumed Ken would come into the rotation particularly in the case, since District 4 had just been chair. It was a natural coming to the end of the rotation. Not because Ken is Ken or any other factor. That’s just how we did it.”

Carlson Weighs In

Carlson, a former member of the Pleasant Hill City Council which usually rotates their mayor and vice mayor each year, then said, “I appreciate the conversation and I did not personally, see a pattern. And if we’re locked into a pattern then we take away the opportunity and the flexibility to do other things. Would it be to not recognize Federal or Karen or the newly elected as they come onto or leave the Board of Supervisors? Because we’re strictly locked into a rotation. Because I don’t understand, Candace, your comment about your time. When is your time? Is it strictly based on your district number and the rotation? Or is it based on we want to give everybody the opportunity to be in the chair’s seat at some point during their term? And it’s hard because we’re a body of five and there’s only four years in your term. But if we’re locked into a rotation then we take ourselves out of the flexibility be of, one…someone who might not be the appropriate individual to represent us based on behavior or other aspects.”

“We modified the rotation,” Andersen responded.

“But how do you do that when you don’t make an exception for the new person or the LGBTQ person or you make it all about gender?” Carlson asked.

Gioia then opened up to public comment and only two call-in speakers shared their thoughts. There was no members of the public in the chambers who spoke on the matter.

Glover Disappointed With Discussion

Before the board vote, Glover offered his thoughts saying, “Let me just say that the gratitude I offered last year has led to a greater discussion that I’ve ever seen in terms of how we get to chair and vice chair. I don’t remember ever having these type of discussions and it’s somewhat saddening that we are having one. I think that this group has acted as a team for all the years that I’ve sit here and I want to remain that way. There’s too much work to get done to have this ceremonial position would get in the way of it.”

“We made history today with our appointment of the co-directors of Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice. And I think it’s history to also appoint as vice chair, for the first time, our first LGBTQ+ member of the board,” Gioia stated. “There’s been a lot of hate going around in all areas, with anti-semitic, racist and also anti-LGBTQ and I think it is important. I think this is historic, as well and I think we should celebrate it. And I look forward to serving with Supervisor Andersen as the vice chair the following year. I’m optimistic you’re going to be re-elected. We’re going to get to serve with you as vice chair and chair. It’s not taking away the opportunity for Supervisor Andersen to serve again as vice chair and chair. It just changes that timing by that one year. And I think we should just celebrate the history of having the first gay member be an officer of this board.”

“And I would respectfully disagree,” Andersen stated. “And I do feel that Diane and I are being marginalized. I will be voting no on this item.”

“I am abstaining,” Burgis shared. “My goal is to try and have a team that is all unanimous. I think I have been a team player. I’m very disappointed that my colleagues didn’t advocate for me to have that opportunity. Everybody should be treated that way. So, I do feel slighted because you didn’t take on this as something important in the past. So, I’m abstaining.”

“So, because I voted for Supervisor Andersen instead of you, that you’re criticizing me?” Gioia asked.

“You didn’t advocate for me to be able to be a vice chair in my…” Burgis responded before Gioia cut in.

“Neither did Supervisor Andersen,” he said.

“It was important to you,” Burgis shot back.

“Let me be honest. It was a unanimous vote in 2019 to appoint Supervisor Andersen as the vice chair,” Gioia explained. “She didn’t vote for you.”

“No. Because we had a rotation,” Andersen responded.

“Let me be clear. She didn’t advocate for you. So, why are you criticizing me?” Gioia asked Burgis.

Andersen again explained the discussion about giving new members, “the opportunity to learn more, to be on the board, to be on all the committees. Just as we do on CCTA (Contra Costa Transportation Authority)…where you don’t just jump into the leadership role until you’ve had that experience.”

“So, I do find it disingenuous to say we’d never had a rotation that we’ve never discussed this,” she continued.

“I do take it personally. So, let’s just move along,” Burgis added.

“I apologize. It’s not intended to be personal,” Gioia responded. “In fact, when we voted for two others to enter their third year, they were both women. Supervisor Piepho and Supervisor Bonilla.”

“And there were extenuating circumstances,” Andersen interjected.

“And I voted for both of them,” Gioia added. “So, I think it is really unfortunate for you to criticize based on gender. I voted for two women to come in in their third year.”

“Now, you’re voting to go over two women,” Burgis stated.

“Yep. So, you’ve changed,” Andersen added.

“There’s an honest difference of opinion,” Gioia responded.

“I think that in point of leadership some of the regional committees Ken was appointed to…he has displayed leadership,” Glover shared. “I wish this conversation was a little bit different. But if we talk about leadership and coming up to speed, those are positions that’s normally gone to individuals that have…”

Andersen spoke over him saying, “And I will point out that John made those appointments even though some of us requested to sit on those boards.”

Burgis said, “I hold Ken very highly.”

“People are starting to change history,” Gioia shot back. “Supervisor Andersen…I did not pick someone over you.”

“The discussion we had several times, John is I would much rather serve on the transportation board…and that’s the appointment you did not make,” Andersen responded.

“That’s correct,” Gioia stated.

“So, with the role as chair comes the opportunity to make very important appointments,” said Andersen. “And I think that’s one of the things that by bypassing my turn in the rotation then I will be losing that opportunity. I don’t know if that is behind this.”

“No,” Gioia interjected.

“So, I do feel it’s a little bit contrived, John and I don’t appreciate the process that you’ve orchestrated,” Andersen stated.

“Well, let me just say, I’ve said this, I think we’re making history by appointing an LGBT member of our board for the first time as an officer and I would hope you would recognize that, as well,” Gioia responded. “And I appreciate there’s different points of view, here. There’s not hard feelings. But I do feel the characterization which I think is inaccurate is that we’re breaking some practice.”

“Not the case the last 12 years,” Andersen reiterated. “The two times we considered Federal remaining vice chair we made it very clear it is out of rotation but we’re going to allow him to go ahead.”

The last time was done to allow former District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff to serve as Chair in 2022 during her final year on the board.

“That really was the practice, John,” Andersen continued. “And so, calling it something else is, certainly you can try and justify it but you really, it’s disingenuous to say you’re doing anything other than skipping over Diane and me and that’s what it is.”

“Each of you will be in the rotation, just one year later,” Gioia reiterated. “No one is skipping over your turn.”

“Let’s just finish,” Burgis stated.

The two ladies’ arguments were of no avail as the board then voted on the substitute motion, and it passed 3-1-1 with Andersen voting against and Burgis voting to abstain. But as mentioned above, they prevailed as their efforts were successful two weeks later.

the attachments to this post:

Gioia listens to Burgis on vice chair appointment 10-3-23

CCC Supes Carlson & Andersen debate VC apptmt 10-3-13

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