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SJ Board appoints ex-fire director to old seat
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FRENCH CAMP – Reactions to the appointment of Gorman Houbein to the French Camp-McKinley Fire District board of directors Tuesday by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors ranged from elation and guarded optimism to one that bordered on cynicism.

“We’re elated with the choice. The choice was perfect. That was the only choice they (supervisors) could make; this will be beneficial to the taxpayers. Everyone is tickled about it,” said board chairman Bob Pico.

“I don’t have a problem with it. Mr. Houbein might have a problem with it once he finds out everything,” said director Doug Beckwith.

“I think it’s just politics,” was the comment that came from director William Smith who was the board chairman who was succeeded by Pico.

The problem that Beckwith was referring to concerns the legal, fiscal, political and administrative issues that have been brewing for some time and has now erupted into a hurricane of accusations and threats of lawsuits – not to mention possible violations to the Brown Act – all of which are now being investigated by the San Joaquin County Grand Jury.

The appointment of a fifth member of the board panel following the resignation of Albert Pagnucci in July, which is also shrouded in controversy, is just the tip of the district’s evolving political iceberg.

Pico said, in an earlier interview that appeared in the Bulletin’s Monday, Oct. 4, issue, Pagnucci resigned in July of this year. However, in a 28-page dossier provided by directors William H. Smith and Douglas Beckwith, and in a telephone interview with both directors, they clarified Pico’s statement about Pagnucci saying the information about the resignation “was kept from the board and the public.”

“We were not notified by Bob Pico,” Smith said, referring to the rest of the board.

He said they also asked for a copy of Pagnucci’s resignation letter, the date when the board received it and when it was posted but that Pico “would not give us any information” and blamed the clerk of the board, former fire chief Richard Rallios, for the oversight.

When they could not get any information about Pagnucci and some items on the agenda for two meetings of the board in the summer, “I contacted the grand jury,” Smith said.

And when the board could not reach a quorum as to the appointment of the person to succeed Pagnucci, the matter was referred to the county Board of Supervisors resulting in the appointment of Houbein on Tuesday. Pico explained that they could not reach a majority vote on the appointment of Pagnucci’s successor because the nominee was Nancy M. Smith, director William H. Smith’s wife. The vote was evenly split for and against the nominee, Pico said.

To be considered by the Board of Supervisors, the candidates had to file an application with the Registrar of Voters. Nancy M. Smith was one of the three who filed, which included Houbein and Joy Lynn Gish.

The controversy over board’s family connections
Through all that controversy, revelations about family connections between the board members, members of the firefighting personnel and reserve firefighters emerged. It started with Pico outlining the family connections of some of the Nov. 2 fire board candidates with the firefighting crew members.

But Pico himself is not without relatives on the fire board, according to several sources who contacted the Bulletin including board member William H. Smith who said that Pico is related to him by marriage.

“Bob Pico is my cousin by marriage,” William H. Smith said.

Pico confirmed that. “Bill Smith and my wife are second cousins,”

Others also corrected Pico’s earlier statement when he told the Bulletin that only two of the six board candidates in November – homemaker and businesswoman Serina F. Lee and Brandon Dean Burlingame – do not have any family connections with any of the district’s board and firefighting crew.

Joy Lynn Gish, one of the six candidates in the November elections, pointed out that Serina F. Lee’s husband is a reserve firefighter captain of the district and that two sons are fire reserves.

Additionally, the Bulletin has learned that Houbein has a grandson who is a reserve firefighter working for the district. Houbein is a former member of the fire board. He came out of retirement with his application and subsequent appointment to the board on Tuesday.

As outlined in the Monday, Oct. 4, story in the Bulletin, everyone who is running for the two vacant seats on the board in the November elections is related to someone either on the fire crews and reserves or the board of directors.

Joy Lynn Gish, who describes herself as an insurance agent in papers filed with the Registrar of Voters, is the wife of district firefighter John Gish who also happens to be the nephew of board member and former board chairman William H. Smith.

Teacher’s aide Michelle Beckwith is the daughter of current fire board member Douglas Beckwith, who also has a son, Andrew, who works for the district as a firefighter.

Joy Lynn Gish, firefighter John Gish’s wife, and Nancy M. Smith who is married to director William H. Smith, both tossed in their applications for the seat of Pagnucci which the county board of supervisors gave to Houbein. The two women are also running in November for the two vacant seats. The terms of William H. Smith and Henry Long are ending in December resulting in the two vacancies. Long is not running for re-election. Incumbent William H. Smith is seeking another term.

None of the above family connections, though, is anything new. Retired fire chief Richard Rallios, who is now the board’s secretary, had a son named John who was a captain in the fire district.