In a nod to continuity and as an affirmation of the good job the clerk-recorder’s office is doing despite the problems of its former leader, acting Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder Deborah Cooper has been selected to continue in that chief elections official position for the next three years.
The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors selected Cooper from among five finalists the board interviewed in public session on Jan. 21. Assuming background checks come back clean, Cooper is scheduled to be appointed at the supervisors’ Feb. 4 meeting.
Cooper had been deputy clerk-recorder from August 2012 until Nov. 1, 2019. On that date, she became acting clerk-recorder following the abrupt resignation in October of Joe Canciamilla, who was finishing his first year of a second four-year elected term.
About a week after he resigned, Canciamilla — who served as a member of the Pittsburg school board and City Council, and is a former state assemblyman — reached a settlement with the state Fair Political Practices Commission on 30 counts of campaign finance violations including using $130,529 in campaign funds for personal expenses and for filing falsified records to cover it up.
Among the five candidates interviewed by supervisors were Cooper and Scott Konopasek, the county assistant registrar of voters since 2013, as well as three higher-profile hopefuls — former 16th District Assemblywoman Catharine Baker of Dublin, political campaign consultant and former CEO of First 5 Alameda County, Mark Friedman of El Cerrito, and Kristin Connelly of Lafayette, president and CEO of the East Bay Leadership Council.
A sixth applicant, Contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, had withdrawn late last week from consideration, saying Jan. 21 that “some personal, private issues have arisen in my family.” Mitchoff was on the supervisors’ dais at the meeting, asking the other applicants various questions.
The supervisors said on Dec. 14 that whoever is appointed will have to be comfortable with taking what they say could become an appointed position in the next few years. Seventeen California counties have appointed chief election officials clerk-recorders, and that the argument is strong for not having an elected official overseeing compliance by other elected officials and candidates.
Cooper said she would happily serve as either an appointed or an elected official. But she also said she would feel awkward if she was an elected official counting other candidates’ votes. “I think it’s good timing for the board to address this,” Cooper said.
Most of the supervisors and applicants went out of their way to separate Canciamilla’s travails and the accompanying negative spotlight from everyone else in the clerk-recorder’s office. There was general agreement that staff members of that office have performed well, one reason why Cooper and Konopasek were finalists for the job.
Cooper said her most immediate priority is making sure the 2020 elections in Contra Costa County go smoothly, as well as bolstering voter outreach (especially in areas where voter turnout is low) and more effectively “branding” the elections office’s services and activities.
As for her long-term future, Cooper told the supervisors nothing’s certain, but that she is considering retirement in the next few years.
The interviewees were selected Jan. 14 from among 22 applicants, many of them current or former City Council members in Contra Costa County or other elected or appointed officials.