First African American appointed to Menlo Park fire board

Daily Post Staff Writer

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board — after a month of drama and in-fighting— filled a vacancy on its board last night by selecting Robert Jones, who will be the board’s first African American member in its 101-year history and its first East Palo Alto resident in 14 years.

Jones, 67, is executive director of the East Palo Alto Community Alliance and Neighborhood Development Organization or EPA CAN DO, a low-income housing nonprofit.

Jones was selected 3-1 after five rounds of voting. In the final round, Peter Carpenter, Virginia Chang Kiraly and Chuck Bernstein voted for Jones.

Prior to selecting Jones, the board decided 3-1 to have the new board member submit to fingerprinting and a background check. Directors Kiraly, Bernstein and Rob Silano voted for the screening while Carpenter was against the move, saying the board had not required previous ap- pointments to undergo such scrutiny.



But the other board members pointed out that in an election, candidates have to sign a document saying they had not been convicted of financial crimes, and lying about such a thing could result in a perjury charge.

Kiraly also said that a background check is especially important because the board is acting as “the voter’s voters” in appointing a new member, and this would reassure the community that the board is appointing a good candidate.

Not checking would be “irresponsible,” Bernstein said.

The discussion of the background check came before the board selected Jones from a field of seven candidates.

Assuming Jones passes the background check, the board will formally vote to appoint him on Oct. 25 at 4 p.m., and he will then be sworn into office. Jones will replace Rex Ianson, who retired and is moving out of state.

More diversity

The appointment of Jones not only increases the racial diversity of the board, which now consists of three white men and an Asian woman, but it also adds a voice from the east side of the district. Of the current members of the board, two live in Menlo Park, one in Atherton and one in unincorporated West Menlo Park. Yet the district also includes East Palo Alto and unincorporated North Fair Oaks.

The last East Palo Alto resident on the board was Steven Kennedy, who served from 1999 to 2003.

Jones, in addition to heading EPA CAN DO, is also involved with the East Palo Alto Community Emergency Re- sponse Team, or CERT, and has helped increase the members and resources of East Palo Alto’s CERT program. He is also a board member for the East Palo Alto Senior Center.


Carpenter, the board’s current president, had wanted the board to vote on replacing Ianson at its Sept. 19 meeting after the directors interviewed each of the applicants for the opening.



But Kiraly and Bernstein said they wanted more time to consider the applicants. Then the Sept. 19 meeting became heated with Silano accusing Kiraly of not being prepared and Kiraly saying that Silano was a puppet for Carpenter.

After the meeting, Carpenter, in an apparent attempt at retaliation against Kiraly, circulated a document questioning whether she could serve on the boards of both the fire district and the San Mateo County Harbor District. The harbor district’s attorney had said two years ago, when she was appointed to the harbor board, that there was no legal conflict between the two positions.