The community is lucky to have seven residents at the ready to volunteer their time and efforts to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District by serving a partial term on the district board. The four current board members, who on Sept. 19 interviewed the applicants for the vacant seat, will be able to choose from a pool of notably strong candidates when they meet to appoint a fifth board member later this month.
With all those solid candidates, including a former board member and several applicants who have volunteered in fire district and town disaster preparedness programs, what might set one person apart as the best choice to fill the seat? The answer, we think, lies in the opportunity to broaden the board's understanding of the entire community the district serves.
Although the fire district's jurisdiction includes Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and nearby unincorporated areas, there hasn't been a representative from East Palo Alto on the board in 14 years. The board now has two residents of Menlo Park, one from Atherton, and one from unincorporated Menlo Park. Of the seven candidates for the vacant seat, five live in Menlo Park, one in Atherton, and one in East Palo Alto.
Robert Jones' East Palo Alto address would not automatically qualify him for a seat on the fire district's governing board. But his East Palo Alto history combines with an impressive professional and personal background, intelligence and candor, and an enthusiasm to become involved with the district even more than he now is. The opportunity to appoint a person who knows first-hand the unique needs of the lower-wealth, high-minority-population East Palo Alto community shouldn't be passed up.
The executive director of EPA Can Do, an affordable housing development program in East Palo Alto, Mr. Jones has been involved in the fire district's Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) program for many years, and serves on the CERT board of directors. During his public interview last month, Mr. Jones noted that there is now a "disconnect" between the CERT program and the fire board, and one of his goals as a fire board member, he said, would be to address that problem.
He also is an East Palo Alto Senior Center board member and has volunteer experience with neighborhood improvement, job training and community economic development programs.
Current members of the fire district board strive to understand the needs and concerns of all district residents, and cannot be accused of representing only the towns they live in. But Mr. Jones knows his community and its needs in a way that's possible only for someone as deeply involved in it as he is. His emphasis, he told the board, would be community education to increase residents' awareness of hazardous conditions they may be living with, such as overloaded electrical cords and other household risks. He also wants to address potential local hazards involving East Palo Alto's chemical companies and flood risks.
The fire district board should not shun the opportunity to add a member who would expand the board's knowledge and understanding of a portion of the district that has been underrepresented for too long. We hope to see Mr. Jones' nameplate at the fire board dais this fall.