Michelle Smith-McDonald

Zone 7 Water Agency directors chose Michelle Smith McDonald to fill the vacant board seat. The Dublin resident said that she wants to enhance the agency’s communication outreach to the public.

Directors voted 6-0 at a special meeting May 2.

Smith McDonald will be sworn in May 15. She will serve until the next election, in March 2020, the state and federal primary.

Directors previously decided the appointment would be temporary, which means serving a short term until the 2020 primary. In the 2020 election, Smith could opt to switch over to one of the three four-year terms that will be on the ballot. Any of the incumbents in four-year seats could switch to the short term, if they wish. Zone 7 has no term limits.

Fourteen people applied for the seat, which was vacated when longtime board veteran Bill Stevens of Livermore resigned to enable him to spend more time with family, and building his growing engineering business.

Two on the applicants’ list — Mike Morrison and Sylvia Tian — withdrew before the meeting.

Among those who stayed, and went through opening public statements to the board, were Olivia Angus, Rich Buckley, Alfred Exner, Naveed Khan, Arne Olson, Robert Tucknott, Niki Wente, and Randy Werner.

Four others advanced to the final round of questioning by the board, Smith McDonald, Alan Burnham, Laurene Green, and Jim Horen.

After board discussion, a straw poll of the board taken by President Angela Ramirez Holmes showed four votes for Smith McDonald. Ramirez Holmes made the motion to appoint her. The vote was unanimous.

Ramirez Holmes said that geographical representation matters, just as much as having women elected to the board, and having a cross-section of experience on the board.

Ramirez Holmes was also impressed by Smith McDonald’s chairing of the Dublin Parks and Community Services Commission. She said that it indicates that Smith McDonald understands reaching conclusions in the board process, which is important for serving on the Zone 7 board.

Director Sarah Palmer commented on the importance of having representation across the Valley. There is no one from Dublin. Smith McDonald is “qualified and well-spoken”, said Palmer.

Palmer’s other choice in the straw poll was Horen, who served 31 years on the Zone 7 staff before retirement. Palmer described Horen as knowledgeable; he had impressed her during his staff service.

Director Olivia Sanwong said that she, too, liked Horen, but thought that many people don’t know what Zone 7 represents. Smith McDonald could help the agency reach its outreach goals.

Director Dennis Gambs, who also served on the Zone 7 staff for 31 years, liked Horen’s qualifications, but Smith McDonald’s community service rose to the top for him.

Three Dublin officials gave brief speeches to the board early in the meeting on behalf of Smith McDonald. They included Council member Jean Josey, Dublin San Ramon Services District board member Georgeanne Vonheeder Leopold, and former Dublin Unified School District (DUSD) trustee Dan Cunningham.

They said that only Jim Kohnen, who had served from 2004-08, had ever provided Dublin with representation on the Zone 7 board. Dublin wants a voice on the board. Three directors come from Livermore, and three from Pleasanton.

Smith McDonald told a reporter that the three who spoke during the public forum were among those who had asked her to apply for the job.


Smith McDonald works as Director of Communication for the Alameda County Office of Education. Previously, she served in a similar position with DUSD.

Smith McDonald was employed as a writer before working for school districts. Her 25-year sports journalism career included coverage for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Hayward Daily Review, espnW, and wnba.com. She still devotes a little time to freelancing. The day after her appointment, wnba.com posted one of her columns.

Her sports writing career and her volunteer work in the community earned her election to the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame in 2015.

Smith McDonald told a reporter that as she looks at the Zone 7 goal to provide more contact with the community, she finds her freelance and community relations skills transfer well to the mission.

Smith McDonald acknowledges she faces a steep learning curve, because she does not know the technical side of the agency, but she believes her reportorial habits will help her there, too. “I know how to research. I’ve had to dig hard to get information,” she said.