The sneaky behavior is the now common practice of candidates for county supervisor to either be appointed or run unopposed. This is a scenario that has come about in recent years in part due to the high cost of campaigning in this far-flung county of 700,000 residents, who live in diverse communities from the Coastside to the suburbs of San Francisco to the Peninsula.
Under current rules, supervisors must reside in their home district but run county-wide, a daunting proposition that most candidates want to avoid, and many have. The last five members of the board have been appointed or have run unopposed. The most recent appointee was Carole Groom, former mayor of San Mateo, who was named last year to fill the unexpired term of Jerry Hill. (The first contested election in years will be held June 8 to fill the seat held by Rich Gordon, who is termed out and is now a candidate for state Assembly.)
More contested elections could be held if the 2010 Charter Review Committee that is meeting now decides to recommend that certain changes be made in the county's charter. If supervisors agree, a ballot measure could go before the public in November, requiring district-wide rather than county-wide elections.
We can't imagine why anyone would oppose such a change. San Mateo is now the only California county to require that supervisors be elected county-wide. It is an embarrassment that should be revised to reflect the reality that many good candidates simply cannot afford the time or money to mount a county-wide campaign.
Last year the county grand jury strongly supported changing the present election format to one that gives each of the five election districts its own candidate. The grand jury report said that district-wide rather than county-wide elections would foster more competition for supervisor seats by attracting more candidates due to the lower cost.
The grand jury also said the smaller, district elections, would increase voter interest and encourage more diversity among the candidates, who could appeal to much smaller constituencies. These candidates would be much more likely to discuss serious local issues that often do not even come up during current campaigns.
Now is the time for the antiquated system of electing our county supervisors to be thrown out and a new version put before voters, if those serving on the Charter Review Committee have the courage to take action and the supervisors agree to put the issue on the ballot.
County residents are being shortchanged in this system that in many cases allows supervisors to decide who will replace them if they term out or move on to other positions. A new charter should require that election of supervisors be by district, and when a vacancy occurs, a replacement can be chosen only by election.