San Jose’s watchdog commission won’t be dissolved

Following a San José Spotlight report that no one applied for four vacancies on the city’s watchdog commission, eight new applications flooded in — and the panel is no longer at risk of being dissolved.

The five-member panel — known formally as the Board of Fair Campaign and Political Practices — investigates alleged election law violations, makes recommendations on campaign and ethics policies and is tasked with suggesting enforcement actions for code violators.

Members serve four year terms and are appointed by the City Council in odd-numbered years.

After Commissioner Thomas Goodwin resigned from the board in Sept. 2018, and two others — Madhavee Vemulapalli and Amarpal Randhawa — chose not to seek reappointment, there was only one remaining member of the board. Former chair Adrian Gonzales, initially appointed in 2015, applied for reappointment in early January.

“Chris Peacock is our lone member,” City Clerk Toni Taber said on Wednesday. “So he is member and acting chair.”

Taber told San José Spotlight in January that no one had applied for the vacancies, and the city was at risk of handing over local control of the commission to the state FPPC. Since then, eight additional applications have flowed in.

Taber said the commission is no longer at risk of going away.

The applicants are undergoing a check for conflicts of interest and will be interviewed during a special City Council meeting on March 18. The public meeting will begin at 1:30 p.m. in the council chambers. The council will also fill a vacancy on the San Jose Planning Commission.

The city will disclose the applicants’ names when the March 18 meeting agenda is posted, but Taber said her office cannot release that information now. Taber cited privacy concerns and an interest in protecting “the integrity of the application and interview process.”

Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, who serves as the liaison for the ethics commission, said he was concerned when he heard commissioners left their positions and no new applications had come in.

Although Jones said he hadn’t seen the eight new applications Thursday morning, he’s eager to get to know the candidates.

“It’s definitely one of those boards or commissions (where) you just don’t want to put anyone on because they make such important, critical decisions,” said Jones. “They impact people’s careers and their wallets, so you want someone who’s fair and can make sound decisions.”

The lack of commissioners resulted in canceled meetings earlier in the year. March’s commission meeting will also be canceled, but the sessions will resume in April.

Taber said she was surprised by the initial “radio silence” and the number of vacancies and lack of applicants was unprecedented. She wondered if the winter holidays impacted recruitment efforts.

If the city was unable to secure applicants for the commission, it would have been forced to turn over responsibilities to the state FPPC. This would have resulted in additional costs for any investigations and a loss of local control.

Formed in 1996, the commission meets once a month — or more if its members are working on an investigation.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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