Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Effort to Remove Bongio from Services District Presidency Fails

Posted By on Tue, Sep 27, 2022 at 6:48 PM

A Humboldt Community Services District director's effort to strip fellow Director Alan Bongio of his board presidency due to racist and offensive comments Bongio made at a recent Humboldt County Planning Commission meeting failed without a vote tonight.

Director Michael Hansen, who requested the agenda item be brought forward, made a motion to have the board vote to remove Bongio from his role of president but it died for a lack of a second. Director Heidi Benzonelli tried to second Hansen's motion but was informed she couldn't, as she was filling in as board president for Bongio, who'd recused himself from the vote, while Directors Gregg Gardiner and Joe Matteoli sat silently.

After Benzonelli attempted to second Hansen's motion, Bongio — who recused himself from the vote but stayed seated at the dais for the discussion — said something to Benzonelli that prompted Hansen to say he was being "disrespectful" and call him a "bully," to which Gardiner shot back: "You are political and a bully."

Shortly before the vote, Bongio — who the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted to censure Sept. 20 and ask that he step down from his position as chair of the Planning Commission due to his conduct at the commission's Aug. 18 meeting, at which he accused two local tribes of negotiating in bad faith, reneging on an agreement and playing a "game" with cultural resources, while repeatedly using the term "Indians" in reference to multiple local tribes — addressed the balance of the board.

Bongio said the board's policy has always been to stay out of politics. He said he'd said his "apologies" for his conduct at the Aug. 18 meeting and was told his "apologies didn't mean anything," saying his "conscience is clear" and he's moving forward. (Bongio apologized at the meeting to the tribes if he "in any way offended them." He did not attend the Board of Supervisors meeting at which he was censured.)

Before Hansen's effort to remove Bongio from his post died on the vine, a number of people commented on the matter.

Gardiner said the controversy around Bongio's comments has nothing to do with the district and then pointed out that Bongio interned at the district when he was just out of college, later replacing his dad, Aldo Bongio on the board, after he'd given 34 years of service. Alan Bongio has now served in the role for 24 years, Gardiner said, dubbing it a "lifetime of service."

He concluded by addressing Bongio directly, saying he's never doubted his sincerity or commitment to the community.

Local developer Rob McBeth addressed the board during public comment to say "politics" should be left out of the board's business, and that Bongio had already been "reprimanded pretty heavily" by the board of supervisors.

District ratepayer Jerry Martien addressed Bongio directly, saying he should have stepped down from the board when appointed to the Planning Commission because it's clear he is not up to the responsibility of the "dual office." He then said he was deeply offended when Bongio "went off on environmentalists," but said his comments directed at the Wiyot Tribe were "1,000 times worse," asking him to voluntarily resign.

The board then turned its attention to Hansen's request that directors and staff undergo additional diversity, equity and inclusion training. After a brief discussion, the board directed staff to research various options for additional training opportunities to be reported back at a future meeting.

Editor's note: This story was updated from a previous version to correct which director called Michael Hansen "political and a bully." The Journal regrets the error.
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Thadeus Greenson

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

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