It’s rare to see Mono County Supervisor Byng Hunt lose his cool at a Board meeting, but this past Tuesday, Hunt clearly and openly expressed his disappointment in some members of the Mono County Fisheries Commission (MCFC).
There are four vacancies on the Commission, which have been vacant since April due to the term expirations of four members of the seven-member commission. The four expired term members have continued to serve on the commission in lieu of the vacancies being filled. Notice of the vacancies was published in local media, resulting in five applications to fill the vacancies. Four of those five applicants were the commissioners with the expired terms. They are seeking re-appointment.
“I won’t reappoint to this commission again until further discussion has been held,” Hunt said on Tuesday. “I am disappointed with the outcomes coming out of the commission. We’re [the County] dealing with a $1 million lawsuit at Conway and spending tens of thousands on depositions, and yet there are fisheries commissioners sitting in court rooting for IAG.”
Hunt was referring to the current legal battle between Mono County and Inland Aquaculture Group (IAG) over disputed issues at Conway Ranch, a local fish rearing facility. The County has a contract with IAG to provide services at Conway Ranch and the MCFC works with IAG on a regular basis.
“I want on the record that I am very dissatisfied with what’s going on with the commission,” Hunt continued.
In a follow up phone call, Hunt further explained to The Sheet, “Commissioners seem to be opposing what the County is doing [with IAG and Conway] rather than helping us as they should.” He explained that during recent depositions, members of the commission had been sitting on the side of IAG rather than the County. “They seem to be taking a back door approach rather than talking to us.”
The MCFC is an appointed advisory body for the County and the Board of Supervisors. It was created in 2002 and according to the resolution that brought it into existence, its primary purpose “shall be to advise the Mono County Board of Supervisors on matters relating to the rearing and stocking of various trout species in Mono County waters.” In addition, it may assist in activities including “provision of oversight of Conway Ranch aquaculture activities.”
MCFC Commission Chair Steve Marti attended Tuesday’s meeting via teleconference from Bridgeport.
“I couldn’t hear well in Bridgeport, but I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Marti told The Sheet. “I was taken aback a little bit, but I didn’t read too much into it other than frustration about the lawsuit. I just don’t see why it is a pertinent point. Everyone has a right to go to court if interested and you just sit where you feel comfortable sitting. I don’t know how you can read into it.”
Marti said that the lawsuit has put the commission in a delicate situation, as it is still expected to work with IAG on a regular basis.
“It’s strange, but we are just trying to make the facility the best it can be for raising fish,” Marti added. He also pointed out that in the small communities we live in, it’s had to not be friendly with people you’ve known for years.
“I’ve been friends with the proprietors of IAG for 20 years, so it’s hard not to be friendly,” Marti said.
Back at Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisor Tim Fesko had agreed. “I think you are confusing IAG with the commission,” Fesko said to Hunt. “I spoke with the individuals and it [seating in court] was misconstrued and taken out of context. We live in small communities, we have relationships.”
Fesko felt that there was more blame on the County’s shoulders than the commission’s shoulders. “Don’t punish the commission for something that’s not its fault,” he said.
Since the commission is allowed to continue meeting with the members who have expired terms until the time that the Board appoints or reappoints members, the Board decided to table the appointments until November when it could have a larger discussion about the MCFC as a whole.
“We need to readdress what the commission is about,” Hunt said.
“Let’s table it and leave the commission as is for now,” Fesko agreed. “We need to have a bigger discussion regarding the direction of the commission.”
Supervisor Fred Stump pointed out that currently the members of the commission are more heavily weighted to the north end of the county and said that there may be others, perhaps in the south end of the county, who would be interested in joining the commission.
Marti, however, pointed out to The Sheet that the history of the commission has been lopsided one way or the other.
“When I joined there were more people from the south county,” he said. “It’s a volunteer situation and it usually turns itself around.”
However, Marti said, due to the difficult situation surrounding the IAG lawsuit, “Maybe we do need direction from the Board on how to deal with IAG.”
The discussion will come before the Board again at one of its November meetings.