It's difficult to hang the right label on Wendy Lack. Is she an activist? A watchdog? A gadfly?
"I've been called a lot of things," she said, hinting that not all are entirely flattering.
This much about the Pleasant Hill resident is indisputable: She is deeply, earnestly, passionately interested in local government. When she isn't studying staff reports, statistics or agendas, she is attending public agency meetings and addressing officials.
She has shared her unvarnished opinions, usually regarding the use of taxpayer money, with the Contra Costa County Employees Retirement Association, the Board of Supervisors, the Local Agency Formation Commission, the Pleasant Hill City Council and the Mt. Diablo school board, among other agencies.
She traces her headlong dive into public policy to a story she read in 2010 -- four years after retiring from a career in human resources -- about the status of the Mt. Diablo Health Care District, which had outlived its usefulness.
"I was astonished to read about an agency that just seemed out of control, not having any clear purpose," she said. "I thought, 'Somebody needs to do something about this.' I started going to board meetings and took this on as a little project. I do believe an individual can make a difference."
Her concern over government excess didn't end there. She campaigned against a county vehicle registration fee and a Pleasant Hill utility users tax, both of which failed. She opposed the November fire district parcel tax that went down to defeat.
If the emphasis on taxes seems a bit narrowly focused -- she's a board member of the Contra Costa County Taxpayers Association -- that hasn't been the only bull's-eye in her sights. She charged the Mt. Diablo school board with violating the Brown Act and demanded transparency. She railed against the county's permitting of the 66,000-square-foot Sufism Reoriented Sanctuary in the residential Saranap neighborhood.
Lack said her husband, Steve, was at first mystified by her plunge into activism. Then a light went off.
"Fundamentally, it's about trust, integrity, competence," she said. "I see trust in government declining, and I see government's trust in people declining. It's not about a topic or an agency. It's about building back trust by holding people accountable."
Lack shares her opinions in blog posts and in letters to the editor, but she is best (or worst) known by public officials for her willingness to publicly challenge them.
"I think they need me," she said. "I'm truly their friend. Sometimes I'm the only person in the room who isn't staff, and they need input. Elected officials and staff are insular -- they're in their own world. They lose perspective."
What some might view as an obsession Lack calls a hobby. It's one, she admits, that wouldn't appeal to everyone. Sitting through public agency meetings can be like watching the Weather Channel.
"Who in their right mind would go to these meetings?" she said. "There are better things to do. People are busy. They have lives, even if I don't. But I also think it's indicative of a certain amount of apathy and cynicism. You know: It won't make any difference. I get told that all the time."
The scrappy idealist won't believe that. She thinks even a lonely voice can be heard.
And public officials across Contra Costa County know what hers sounds like.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.