No New Coastal Boss Expected Until 2017

     NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (CN) — After the controversial firing of its popular executive director, the California Coastal Commission does not expect to hire a new director until next year.
     The commission on Friday wrapped up its May meeting Friday by discussing the hiring process to select a new executive director, which is not expected to happen until early 2017.
     Environmentalists and state lawmakers lambasted the commission after it fired Charles Lester in February, claiming the 7-5 vote to fire him a truckling to developers.
     Commission Chairman Steve Kinsey was noticeably absent Friday. Environmentalists focused their ire on Kinsey, claiming he wanted to replace Lester with a “development-friendly” executive director.
     Chief deputy director Susan Hansch told the commission that its staff included public comments they thought “appropriate” in a draft request for proposals to hire an executive search firm for the recruiting and selection process.
     She said that any staff member interested in the position “will not be involved in any way, shape or form in the selection process.”
     The salary for the position is $153,000 to $160,000 a year, according to the staff report.
     The staff’s timeline puts the tentative date for an offer letter to be drafted Jan. 18, 2017.
     Hansch said the staff hopes to get a contract approved for a search firm in July, and the recruitment process to begin no sooner than the end of August, which will make it unlikely that a new executive director could be hired this year.
     “We don’t see you having a new executive director until early 2017,” Hansch told the commission.
     Commissioner Roberto Uranga said the draft proposal “is something we can certainly work with” and that included “elements” he wanted to seem, including diversity.
     But Commissioner Effie Turnbull-Sanders said she was concerned that the staff’s qualifications for a new executive director may not “cast a broad as net as possible,” as very few people have expertise or experience in understanding the Coastal Act unless they have worked for the commission.
     “Some knowledge of that is necessary but they don’t have to be an absolute expert,” Sanders said.
     Commissioner Mary Shallenberger pressed staff about how the commission would pay for recruiting a new executive director, noting the “lowest bid may be $50,000 to quite a bit higher.”
     Hansch said the money would come out of next year’s fiscal budget, which starts in July. She acknowledged that despite some savings from not paying an executive director for the past few months it would still “be a challenge.”
     Amy Trainer, deputy director of the California Coastal Protection Network, told the commission many environmental groups and stakeholders want the public to have the greatest amount of public participation possible in the selection process, to help the commission gain back public trust.
     The California Coastal Protection Network, the Sierra Club, Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples and other groups sent a letter to the commission asking that public and tribal participation be a requirement — not an option.
     The groups also asked the commission to engage with communities of color, low-income communities and Native American tribes to “best ensure that the strong social justice policies of the Coastal Act, like readily available public access to California beaches, is upheld and strengthened.”
     The draft proposal states that input from stakeholders will be gathered “at a minimum” through a designated email address, and that additional public input is “highly desired.”
     Hansch responded by telling commissioners the staff wants “maximum public participation” and believes the best way to do that is through public hearings.
     Once the contractor has screened and selected semifinalist candidates, the commission will receive an updated summary document every two weeks about where they are in the selection process, Hansch said.

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