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Political ties, shared ideology clearly influence commission appointments

I love it when a column fires people up, and mine last week certainly did.

Examining the application process in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa regarding boards and commission appointments in both cities got people talking.

Discovering that neither city clerk’s office verifies anything on these applications (other than if the person is a resident and eligible for the position) was news to me and to readers.

Though each city says council members have the option of interviewing prospective applicants, is anyone really verifying information presented to them?

Newport Councilwoman Diane Dixon wrote me, saying since 2015 each mayor has appointed a “council working group of three council members to review applications for council appointments.”

The group interviews candidates it believes are qualified.

“We personally interview candidates over a two-day period,” Dixon says of the group she’s been a part of for three years. “We submit our recommendations (in rank order) to the full council.”

Dixon says she’s attempting to get more women to apply for city appointments via her efforts with Women in Newport Networking, “a loose confederation of women in Newport who care about public service,” formed in 2015.

As far as the larger issue of background checks, criminal records, etc., Dixon wondered if other cities do this.

It’s a question I’ll look into and keep readers posted.

But in this day and age, maybe Newport should initiate this practice, regardless of what other cities do.

Several readers wondered if a background check had been done in the case of former Newport resident Jack Wu before he was appointed to the Finance Committee. Maybe his self-dealing with his former employer, Russell Fischer, would’ve been discovered before he was arrested and convicted of embezzling from U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) while serving as his volunteer treasurer.

The overall “fairness” with which applicants are selected was another subject on readers’ minds.

I only heard from Newport residents on this --- not Costa Mesans — which is very telling. Costa Mesa seems to have righted its political ship, while Newport’s still in rough seas, as far as the appointment process goes

Newporter Jamshed Dastur’s been rejected six times for the Harbor Commission because he’s not part of the “good ol’ boys club,” as he puts it.

On May 19 Dastur wrote to council members after his last rejection:

“I believe that I have a stellar academic background, an outstanding professional career record centered on Marine/Harbor Engineering and Construction, extensive service in National, Local & Civic affairs and 24 years of residency in Newport Beach. So what is missing?”

Is it because he’s not a Republican and critical of their policies?

Is it that he's an “immigrant from South Asia (42 years since I became a U.S. citizen) with an Iranian/Muslim sounding name?”

Dastur admits he didn’t promote his candidacy to council members, thinking his resume would speak for itself.

Dixon says every candidate should promote themselves to the council, but regardless, hers was the only vote he received this go around.

Why wasn’t he selected?

Councilman Scott Peotter, who wasn’t on the interview committee, wrote “maybe the whole man-made global warming/sea level rise thing influenced me.”

He told Dastur not to be “discouraged” and offered to have coffee with him.

Councilman Will O’Neill was “disappointed” in the tone of Dastur’s letter and suggested Dastur “find avenues to use that great Stanford education toward our community betterment.”

“Most applicants for Harbor Commission that are given serious consideration, at least in my eyes, are avid boaters,” wrote Mayor Kevin Muldoon.

Guess Dastur missed the boat here.

Councilman Jeff Herdman didn’t know he’d applied before, suggested he try again, as he’d have his vote next time.

But Dastur says he’s done.

Is his case unique?

Tim Stoaks has 12 rejection letters dating to 2007 in his bids for Newport’s Planning Commission and keeps reapplying.

Stoaks is an architect, served on the Santa Ana Heights Redevelopment Project Advisory Board, is a member of Line in the Sand and a founding member of the Friends of Newport Beach Animal Shelter. With that kind of pedigree of local involvement you’d think he’d be a shoo-in.

Apparently not. Stoaks jokes he can’t win appointment because he’s a friend of mine.

But another one of my friends, Lynn Selich, won appointment to the Newport Art Commission.

She’s also married to former Mayor Ed Selich, and I’m sure that outweighed her friendship with me, but even so controversy followed her latest appointment.

In June, Selich resigned days after being reappointed to the commission!

Selich tells me she quit in protest after fellow Commissioner Mike Kerr wasn’t re-appointed.

Tired of the political wrangling, Selich has moved on, but something tells me the appointment process controversy in Newport isn’t going to anytime soon.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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