Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – The appointment of a volunteer to the McKinleyville Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee has been put on hold due to accusations of disrespectful behavior stemming from an incident more than two years ago in which elected officials were asked to leave a community organizing meeting.
The McKinleyville Community Services District (MCSD) Board of Directors was scheduled to consider the appointment of McKinleyville resident John Calkins to the advisory committee at its June 1 meeting, but that action was delayed to July 6 at the request of Director Dennis Mayo.
The committee, which advises the board on parks and recreation-related issues, has three vacancies – one for a student and two for community members. After publicizing the openings, the district received a single letter of interest from Calkins, who has lived in Humboldt County since 1997, and has lived in McKinleyville since 2009.
Calkins, who is retired, has worked with the California Conservation Corps building trails, and regularly volunteers to maintain the MCSD’s Bocce ball courts.
An appointment to the committee would normally be a routine matter, with little discussion by the MCSD board. However, Mayo is upset over an incident about two years ago involving the McKinleyville Organizing Committee (MOC).
The organization, led by what is now called True North, partnered with local churches to get community members together to organize and rally in support of projects. The MOC followed the principles of the People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO), a grassroots community organizing network founded in 1972 by Father John Baumann, a Jesuit priest.
The PICO principles prohibit elected officials from participating in certain organizing meetings, which are intended for regular citizens who don’t already have power. Elected officials, however, may be invited to provide information or listen to MOC members.
These PICO principles lead to an awkward situation a couple years ago when Calkins was holding a training to teach participants to do research. MCSD Director Mayo, Director Helen Edwards and then-Director Bill Wennerholm came to the training session. Calkins said he was asked by MOC members to inform the elected officials about the PICO principles, and asked them to leave.
“It wasn’t well received,” Calkins said in an interview last week.
The MOC followed up by sending the board members letters explaining why they couldn’t be at the organizing meetings. The incident resulted in some heated exchanges that witnesses are loath to publicly discuss.
Mayo was unhappy about being ejected from the meeting, and at the June 1 meeting, he asked the board to delay consideration of the appointment to the July 6 meeting. Mayo said he wanted Director Edwards, who was absent, to be able to discuss the appointment because she has concerns.
“Recently, quite a few of us on the board and quite a few in the public were unceremoniously and disrespectfully not allowed to participate in an issue we thought was a community issue,” Mayo told the board, referring to the MOC incident.
“Mr. Calkins was part of that process,” Mayo said.
“It’s been a very disrespectful and painful episode on our community,” Mayo said. “It has divided a lot of us. It has made us upset and has pushed people apart. There was no reason for that.”
Mayo said he is concerned about having “that attitude” on the advisory committee. “That’s not acceptable,” he said.
But President George Wheeler said he saw the issue differently. Before being elected in November 2013, Wheeler was active with the MOC. He said he was well aware of the group’s policy on elected officials and stopped participating in meetings after he was elected.
Wheeler said he did not think it was appropriate to be strategizing with the MOC on issues that would ultimately come before the MCSD board.
Wheeler said he supported appointing Calkins to the committee.
“I know Johnny personally,” he said. “He’s a good man who has never shirked away from a hard job and has volunteered, just like you, just like you Dennis, for many, many projects that benefit the community.”
Wheeler mentioned Calkins work on the Hammond Trail, which spurred Mayo to interject that he had donated land for the trail.
During the discussion, Mayo repeatedly mentioned his volunteer contributions to McKinleyville.
“Let’s not make it a competition, who volunteered more,” Wheeler responded.
Calkins, who is no longer participating in MOC meetings, told the board he was fine with the delay.
“I don’t want to have a court hearing here, nor do I want to toot my own horn, but I care about my community. I know how to act appropriately. I acted appropriately,” Calkins said, referring to what happened with the MOC. “I’m not going to talk about that incident, where there was much inappropriateness, which I am not going to go into here before the board.”
The board voted 3-1, with Wheeler dissenting and Edwards absent, to postpone consideration of the appointment to the Wednesday, July 6 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at Azalea Hall, 1620 Pickett Rd. in McKinleyville.