Hughson Mayor Matt Beekman will no longer represent the mayors of Stanislaus County on the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) after the mayors voted 4-5 to expel him from his position at the City Selection Committee meeting on July 8 in Newman.
The mayors of Ceres, Turlock, Hughson and Modesto favored keeping Beekman as the LAFCO representative but were narrowly outvoted by others interested in replacing him. Voting against Beekman were the mayors of Waterford, Newman, Patterson, Riverbank and Oakdale.
Beekman came under fire in March when LAFCO convened to discuss land mitigations efforts. LAFCO is composed of various city and county representatives and though often regarded as nebulous by the general public, one central goal of the commission is to preserve agricultural land while also promoting orderly growth. In a 3-2 vote Beekman voted with Stanislaus County Supervisors Jim DeMartini and Terry Withrow to amend the LAFCO agricultural preservation policy to set an in-lieu fee methodology of 35 percent plus a five percent endowment. Several mayors felt this vote misrepresented their interests.
"The City Selection Committee is supposed to select a member that fairly represents the diversity of the cities," said Riverbank Mayor Richard O'Brien at a nearly four-hour meeting to determine Beekman's fate in May. "We selected you thinking you would fairly represent us. When you have seven cities saying ‘don't go forward with this' and you did, that shows us that you have a disregard for our opinion when you've already made up your mind."
However, not all of the mayors were willing to hold Beekman singularly accountable at the May meeting. Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth vocalized support not necessarily for Beekman's decision, but rather his right to make it.
"This is just a disagreement on a policy and I'm not diminishing that at all, but I'm saying that we do not have to remove Matt Beekman tonight. We do not have to remove him from LAFCO because we disagreed with him," said Soiseth.
Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra said he didn't believe a difference of opinion was "worthy of removal."
"I'm not happy with his vote," said Vierra, "but we all get our opportunity to vote up here. God forbid if you vote one way and we decide to remove you because of that."
The vote to determine if Beekman will still sit on LAFCO at the May meeting was tabled for 60 days during which Beekman said he availed himself namely through email, to answer unresolved questions amongst the mayors, but the response was "pretty limited." The postponement of the vote coupled with the lack of depth of the discussion amongst many of the mayors at both Wednesday's meeting and a meeting in June left Beekman feeling that the process was not "constructive."
Although the mayors did not collectively agree to keep Beekman, the Hughson mayor had a significant amount of support from the community that felt he should not be punished over one vote - especially since the policy on which he voted was now a moot point.
"What good at that point is it to get rid of him?" asked Wood Colony resident Lisa Braden. "He didn't do anything wrong. That's what it comes down to."
Braden and others are rallying for Beekman on the community-created Facebook page titled "Citizens for Matthew Beekman" where members posted that they plan to file a complaint with the Civil Grand Jury. Braden felt Beekman was being penalized for not being a puppet for the City Selection Committee and he did the right thing by voting with his conscience. She is working with other members of the community to gather evidence to present to the grand jury, a process that she said should be complete within a week.
The City Selection Committee will be appointing a new LAFCO representative in upcoming weeks.
(Jeff Benziger contributed to this article).