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Bickering panel makes up

By John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Saturday March 03, 2001

The formerly bickering Community Environmental Advisory Commission conducted its meeting Thursday with the harmonious rapture of newlyweds making up after their first fight. 

CEAC was able to complete its monthly meeting without any scenes and take action on several items of business, including electing a new chair and vice chair. The success of the meeting was in stark contrast to the last two meetings, which collapsed when disgruntled commissioners abruptly left in protest over the acting chair’s refusal to recuse himself from issues related to his employer, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque wrote two opinions in January saying that Acting Chair Gordon Wozniak should resign because of his employment as a senior scientist at the laboratory. Wozniak has steadfastly disagreed with Albuquerque and has refused to step down from the commission or recuse himself from lab-related issues.  

“I feel strongly I should not be made a second class citizen because of my occupation,” he said at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting. 

The opinions were issued shortly before a controversial draft report was issued by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research that claims the National Tritium Labeling Facility at LBNL may pose a danger to residents who live near the laboratory during a fire or natural disaster. 

The report polarized the commission adding to the conflict over Wozniak’s role on the commission. 

The two previous meetings on Feb. 1 and Feb. 22 ended when three commissioners abruptly walked out. In both cases, their departure left too few commissioners to legally continue. At the Feb. 1 meeting Commissioners Jami Caseber, Pam Webster and temporary Commissioner Susan Chang left the meeting when Wozniak refused the request to recuse himself from LBNL issues. 

On Feb. 22, the CEAC meeting ended for the same reason, when Caseber, Webster and new Commissioner LA Wood walked out. In both cases the commission was unable to take any action on items on its agenda. 

But on Thursday, commissioners seemed willing to forget the infighting and move forward.  

Wood said the previous meetings had been unruly. “In the last year there has been a loss of confidence in what this body does,” he said. “I hope we can go forward in a more parliamentary manner.” 

Commissioner Elmer Grossman said the usual decorum that citizens expect from a government body was not evident at recent CEAC meetings. “There was so much name calling and cat calls at the last meeting, I went home and had a stiff drink and wondered about remaining on the commission.” 

Part of the reason the commission was able to get along may have been a communication from the city attorney clarifying the commission’s role in relation to her opinion of Wozniak’s conflict of interest.  

On Feb 27, Albuquerque wrote that while she had advised that there was a conflict of interest “the implementation of this advice requires either Mr. Wozniak’s action to resign or the action of the appointing Councilmember to replace him. Thus he is on the commission until replaced.” 

Wozniak was appointed by Councilmember Polly Armstrong who is currently out of the state. Several weeks ago Armstrong told the Daily Planet that she would stand behind Wozniak, but she could not be reached more recently to respond to questions about continued support for the controversial commissioner. 

There were unconfirmed reports on Friday that Wozniak was considering resigning from the commission.  

One of the first actions the commission took Thursday was to elect a new chair and vice chair. Commissioner Caseber was approved as the new chair of the commission by a 7-0-1 vote with Wozniak abstaining.  

Caseber has served on the commission for eight years including one year as chair in 1996. Several of the commissioners said the 56-year-old Caseber was the best choice because he could bring a sense of stability to the commission. 

Caseber said he would agree to the role on the condition he would chair for only three-to-six months. Most terms last one year. 

“This job is stressful,” Caseber said. “And I promised my wife I wouldn’t do this anymore.” 

Caseber said he wants to see the board function better in the next few months “and the only way that can happen is if everybody pulls their weight and hangs together.” 

Wood, recently appointed by Councilmember Maudelle Shirek, was elected as vice chair of the commission over Grossman by a vote of 5-3.  

Shortly after Caseber was elected chair, commission members were discussing how much authority the chair actually has, when Commissioner Daniel Luten interjected an observation. “Being chair of this commission is like herding cats,” he said.