Thursday, September 15, 2022

Humboldt CSD Board to Consider Stripping Bongio of Presidency

Posted By on Thu, Sep 15, 2022 at 1:02 PM

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The Humboldt Community Services Board of Directors will consider at its next meeting  whether to remove Director Alan Bongio from his role as president amid an ongoing backlash over recent comments made in his role as chair of the Humboldt County Planning Commissioner that left local tribal officials deeply offended and shook their confidence in the commission.

At the board’s Sept. 13 meeting, Director Michael Hansen asked that the matters of Bongio’s removal as president and mandating diversity, equity and inclusion training for all district staff and board members be put on the agenda for the board’s Sept. 27 meeting.

“I just think that it was indefensible what he did and someone who’s in all these powerful positions and making these decisions at the very least needs to have some common sense and respect for other people and other cultures,” Hansen told the Journal, explaining why he asked that the board consider stripping Bongio of his presidency. “It’s not the first time director Bongio has pushed the limits with some of his speech and I felt like it was the least I could do to support others who are dealing with what he did, and basically just the type of person he is.”

Hansen’s request came less than a week after the heads of nine local nonprofits penned a letter to Bongio and First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, who appointed him to the Planning Commission, calling for Bongio’s resignation or removal from the commission, citing his “racist and other offensive language when discussing sovereign tribal governments.”

Bongio did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment for this story but we’ll update if we hear back from him.

The Planning Commission chair has been under increasing scrutiny since the commission’s Aug. 18 meeting, when Bongio repeatedly made far-reaching comments about “Indians,” while accusing two local tribes — the Blue Lake Rancheria and the Wiyot Tribe — of negotiating in bad faith, trying to extort more concessions out of a local developer, playing a “game” with cultural resources and reneging on an agreement. Tribal representatives said they found Bongio’s comments offensive, with Wiyot Tribal Chair Ted Hernandez saying they’d caused him to loose faith in the Planning Commission.

During the commission’s Sept. 1 meeting, Bongio apologized to the tribes if he “in any way offended them.”

Hansen said he was troubled by Bongio’s comments at the Aug. 18 meeting and also by what he deemed the “lack of apology” that followed.

“He apologized but he apologized more for offending people than the act itself,” Hansen said. “I’m a person that I feel is level-headed and likes to keep things kind of orderly but, like I said, this is indefensible what he did. … It wasn’t easy for me to do, but I just stood up and did what I felt needed to be done.”

The board doesn’t have the power to remove Bongio as one of its members, but it can strip him of his presidency with a majority vote.

It’s unclear whether Bongio — one of the board’s five members — will get to participate in the discussion and vote on whether he should be removed from the presidency, district General Manager Terrence Williams told the Journal, adding that the district’s attorney is still reviewing whether Bongio will have to recuse himself from the matter.

In addition to Bongio and Hansen, the board comprises Heidi Benzonelli, Gregg Gardiner and Joe Matteoli.

As to Bongio’s role as Planning Commission chair, Bohn spoke to the Times-Standard after the nonprofits submitted their letter and seemed to indicate he does not plan to remove Bongio from the post. Bohn said Bongio’s comments were “inappropriate” and “inarticulate,” but added that in nine years on the Planning Commission “this is the first indiscretion he’s had.”

“I’m hopeful we can move forward to find a common ground,” he told the paper.

The letter Bohn was responding to — signed by the heads of the Environmental Information Center, Humboldt Baykeeper, North Coast Environmental Center, Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities, Cooperation Humboldt, Centro del Pueblo Humboldt, Redwood Coalition for Climate and Environmental Responsibility, Friends of the Eel River and Friends of the Dunes — argues he is “not fit for this position.” Bongio’s comments indicate he is incapable of impartially applying state and and federal regulations protecting tribal cultural resources, the letter argues, asking for his “immediate resignation or removal.”

Back at the community services district, Hansen said he felt it appropriate to also ask the board to consider mandating diversity, equity and inclusion training in an effort to keep anything like this from happening again in the future.

“If people are having trouble and haven’t figured some of these things out yet, then a chance to be educated on them is the first step in trying to help everyone get along a little better,” he said, adding that he encourages the district’s ratepayers to participate in the meeting and make their views known. “The more the public’s around, the easier it is for the board members to make decisions that those ratepayers want to see made. I just encourage public participation as much as possible.”
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Thadeus Greenson

Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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