By Steven Tavares.

Just over one year after the East Bay’s Oro Loma Sanitary District was thrust into controversy following racial comments by one of its elected members, the 104-year-old municipality now has its first black board member.

The five-member board appointed Rita Duncan to replace the retiring Howard Kerr on Tuesday following a split vote.

Duncan is Oro Loma’s second appointed member in less than year. Boardmember Dan Walters was chosen last April to replace Laython Landis, who announced his retirement after 42 years on the board, rather than face repeated calls for his resignation. Landis died in November.

In December 2014, Landis used the n-word in reference to inclement weather at a district committee hearing. He was censured by the board for this comments, but several members of the community and the Alameda County Democratic Party called for his removal.

Shortly after, Kerr, a former San Leandro councilmember and long-time member of the Oro Loma board also announced his retirement in June. Kerr was first elected to the board in 1986.

Three applicants for Kerr seat emerged, including Duncan, who also applied last year for Landis’ seat; Bob Glaze, another former San Leandro councilmember; and Chike Udemezue.

However, after a poll of the board eliminated Udemezue, the vote for Duncan and Glaze was deadlocked, 2-2, with board directors Shelia Young and Walters supporting Glaze and Tim Becker and Roland Dias backing Duncan.

The tie was broken by Walters who switched his vote in favor of Duncan, who was later unanimously approved. However, Duncan’s stint on the board is only through November. Voters will be asked to fill the remaining two years of Kerr’s term on the November ballot.

Duncan’s appointment to the Oro Loma board continues to bring rapid change to a sanitary district known for decades as an elected body exclusively led by older white males. In 2014, Young, a former mayor of San Leandro, was elected as the district’s first female board member.

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