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Zone 7 appoints Smith McDonald as new director; becomes lone Dublin resident on board

Public relations professional's term on dais runs through March 2020 election

The search for a new member of the Zone 7 Water Agency Board of Directors has come to an end with the board unanimously appointing Dublin resident and public relations professional Michelle Smith McDonald to fill the seat that's been empty since early March.

Smith McDonald, who becomes the lone Dublin resident on the seven-member regional board, was picked from among four top finalists during a special meeting at the Zone 7 offices in Livermore on Thursday night.

"I am honored to be selected to join the Zone 7 Board of Directors. Zone 7 provides critical services to the Livermore-Amador Valley region in terms of water delivery and water quality and I am ready to contribute to thoughtful, forward-focused decision making that benefits the community we serve," Smith McDonald said in a statement after her appointment.

Smith McDonald, who works as director of communications for the Alameda County Office of Education, fills the seat left vacant when former director Bill Stevens retired in early March in the middle of his sixth term on the Zone 7 board.

She was one of 12 candidates up for consideration when the board began its deliberations at Thursday's meeting -- originally 14 people applied but two candidates withdrew their applications before interviews.

That original list included former Pleasanton councilman Arne Olson, local vintner Niki Wente, financial analyst Alfred Exner (who ran a failed bid for the board in 2016) and fellow past Zone 7 candidate Matt Morrison, a local environmentalist and attorney.

Candidates addressed the board with three-minute statements before the field was eventually whittled down to the top four -- Smith McDonald, consultant Alan Burnham, geologist Laurene Green and retired Zone 7 civil engineer Jim Horen. That group was then interviewed for 15 minutes each, during which Smith McDonald commented, "What Zone 7 does is one of the best kept secrets in the Valley," and shared her vision of helping the agency connect more with the community.

Following those interviews, the board deliberated before deciding on Smith McDonald. The directors spoke to Smith McDonald's "years of communications and outreach experience" that would be useful for helping communicate the agency's mission of "providing safe and reliable drinking water and doing so in a fiscally sound and transparent manner" more effectively.

Board President Angela Ramirez Holmes called everyone "incredibly qualified" and gifted with "very specific technical skills" but said "what clarified the decision for me was Smith McDonald's involvement in Tri-Valley community service."

"When you are working and taking care of your family and you are also a community member that pitches in that speaks volumes," Ramirez Holmes said.

Though Stevens' four-year term was due to expire in March 2022, Smith McDonald will serve on the board until coming up for re-election in the March 2020 primary. The board opted to fill Stevens' seat with a provisional appointment lasting until Zone 7's next regularly scheduled election (during which three of the seven positions were already set for the ballot), rather than call for a special election now.

Based in Livermore, Zone 7 is the wholesale water retailer for the cities of Pleasanton and Livermore, Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) and Cal Water's Livermore division. The agency is also tasked with providing flood protection in the Livermore and Amador valleys.

Though residents from Dublin, Pleasanton or Livermore are eligible to run for Zone 7 elections, Smith McDonald is now the only Dublin resident on the board -- three directors live in Pleasanton and the three others are from Livermore.

A San Lorenzo native and San Jose State University alum, Smith McDonald is a former sports journalist with ESPN, espnW and the San Francisco Chronicle who also later worked as public information officer for Dublin Unified School District. She is a member of the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame, inducted in 2015 in the Sports & Athletics category.

Editor Jeremy Walsh contributed to this story.

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