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Election in French Camp-McKinley Fire district all in the family
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FRENCH CAMP – You think the gubernatorial drama is the hottest election ticket? Think again.

There’s more election drama happening in the much smaller territory of the French Camp-McKinley Fire District. And you don’t even have to wait until November for the big part of the election entertainment. The preview is happening on Tuesday before the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors when the county officials will put their heads together to see who among the three applicants vying for one vacant seat on the fire board of directors should replace former board member Albert Pagnucci who resigned in July.

A warning may be necessary at this juncture of a dizzying walk through events and names that could be more labyrinthine than the most intricate Dell’Osso corn maze.

For starters, here is a list of the main cast of characters to help the reader in identifying who is who in the following a-maze-ing election story.

The current board of directors is made up of chairman Bob Pico, and members William H. Smith, Henry C. Long, and Doug Beckwith. Fifth director Albert Pagnucci resigned in July. The vacancy created by his resignation is the reason the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to take action at their Tuesday meeting and select one appointee from the three who have applied for the position.

That task was supposed to have been done by the fire board; however, Pico explained that the remaining four board members were evenly split and “could not agree” on whether the proposed appointee, Nancy M. Smith, should be named to the board. The major point of contention: Nancy Smith happens to be the wife of William H. Smith, the chairman of the board before Pico took over.

William and Beckwith “did not want to participate” in the appointment process when the board was supposed to meet in July and August, so during those two months, “we didn’t have a meeting,”  Pico said. That is also the reason why they had to take this issue to the county, added Pico, and had the position open for applications at the Registrar of Voters office. Three people filed papers at the Registrar of Voters for Pagnucci’s seat which includes Nancy Smith and Gorman Houbein, a former member of the fire board. A third candidate filed an application and was confirmed at the Registrar of Voters office on Friday, said Clerk of the Board Lois Sahyoun.

Pico said some people are concerned about Nancy Smith’s appointment to the board because of the issue of nepotism arising from the fact the husband is also on the board. However, a legal counsel with San Joaquin County said this situation would not be a case of nepotism because husband and wife would be in “co-equal relationship on the board.” Nepotism arises when a person is being supervised by a relative, which would not be the case in this situation, he said.

But should Nancy Smith lose out on this appointment to succeed Pagnucci, she will still be a contender for the board in the November elections. She is one of six people who are on the ballot in the race to fill two vacant seats on the fire board. Her husband, William H. Smith, and board member Henry C. Long are ending their terms at the end of the year, thereby creating the two vacancies. Her husband, William H. Smith, is running for re-election; Long is not.

All in the family
The election drama does not end with the Smiths being both on the ballot in November.

Candidate Joy Lynn Gish, an insurance agent who lives in unincorporated Lathrop that is under the 16-square-mile geographical jurisdiction of the French Camp-McKinley Fire District, is the wife of district firefighter John Dish. John Dish also happens to be the nephew of board member and former board chairman William H. Smith.

Another candidate in the November elections is teacher’s aide Michelle Beckwith who also lives in Lathrop. She is the daughter of current fire board member Doug Beckwith, who also has a son, Andrew, who works for the district as a firefighter.

Pico said the only candidates who do not have such connections with members of the board are Brandon Dean Burlingame, a firefighter with the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District who lives in French Camp, and Serina F. Lee, a homemaker and businesswoman who is also a grandmother.

Another controversy within the fire district involves the resignation earlier this summer of fire Chief Richard Rallios. Prior to his resignation, he was removed temporarily from his post because of some issues involving some of the employees, said Pico. After his brief reinstatement as chief, he retired and the board appointed Matt Bailer, a former fire engineer with the district, as interim chief.

“It’s a mess out there,” said Pico.

Because of the above issues and other related concerns, Pico said the San Joaquin County Grand Jury has been asked to “look into the fire district. I’m just waiting to be called by the grand jury” for questioning, he said.

Pico himself worked with the fire district for many years before he retired some 12 years ago. Before that, the French Camp resident has been in the fire service since the early 1960s – first, as a reserve for 12 years, nine years as reserve captain, nine years as president of the reserves’ organization, and working full time as a firefighter for the district beginning in 1975. He came out of retirement 10 years ago to become a member of the fire board.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors will meet Tuesday, Oct. 5, in the board chambers at 44. N. San Joaquin Street, 6th floor, in Stockton. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m.