News - April 28, 2010

Changing the way we elect county supes

by Dave Boyce

Unlike every other county in California, San Mateo County holds county-wide elections for supervisors. Though candidates must live in the district they would represent, they win the seat in a county-wide — not a district — election.

This system should not change, said a majority of volunteers on a committee that's been considering whether county supervisors should be elected by district.

Despite that opinion, the committee decided the question should be put to a vote of the people in November.

The group met on April 21 in the Menlo Park City Council chambers and its conclusions will be forwarded in June to the Board of Supervisors , which will decide whether to put the proposal on the November 2010 ballot.

The committee's mission arose from complaints in a 2008-09 grand jury report critical of the electoral advantages enjoyed by candidates appointed to the Board of Supervisors after a sitting supervisor vacates a seat.

Go to (case-sensitive) to read the report.

Asked to go on the record with their opinions, 11 members expressed support for the current "at large" elections, four supported "by district" elections, and one gave no opinion. The committee voted 14 to 2 to recommend that the question be put on the ballot in November.

It would not be the first time. Voters rejected by-district elections in 1978 and 1980 by majorities of 52 and 57 percent, respectively.

Go to (case-sensitive) for brief descriptions of committee members and how they came to be members.

This was the committee's eighth meeting, with five more ahead. They will have more to say, including on how to fill a vacant seat.

Need a silver bullet

In support of keeping the elections county-wide, advocates focused in part on what by-district elections would not accomplish.

Ethnic diversity is a concern, but by-district elections "won't guarantee that minorities would win," San Mateo resident Carol Boes said. Besides, she added, supervisors need a regional outlook.

Campaigning is expensive and open to the well-connected, but a by-district election "does not guarantee" that qualified candidates would be elected, Daly City resident Dolores "Dee" Canepa said.

The county should provide matching funds, Ms. Canepa said, adding that candidates today can campaign inexpensively via Facebook and Twitter.

By-district elections might add local focus to a supervisor's attention, but voters already have such focus in city councils and commissions, "places where you get more bang for the buck," said San Mateo resident Kathy Everitt.

To diversify the board, San Mateo resident Shelley Kessler said, candidates from underrepresented communities might be recruited, and well-connected candidates might be persuaded not to run.

Complaints about under-representation "kind of saddened" Cary Wiest, an unincorporated community resident who said he thinks such critiques do not reflect the larger reality.

More is better

Woodside Mayor Dave Burow, who said he prefers a proportional system in which voters get one vote for each candidate running and can use the votes as they choose, also said he would support district elections even though they may not actually result in more diversity on the board or more competitive elections.

Henry Organ of Menlo Park, the only non-white committee member, also supported by-district elections.

Had the committee been more ethnically diverse, its conclusions might have been different, he said.

Also supporting by-district elections was Dave Pine, board president of the San Mateo High School District. "To my mind, there's no question that by-district elections move the ball forward," he said. "More elections mean more dialog and that's fundamental. That's what democracy is about."

Would such elections push a supervisor away from regional interests? Occasionally, Mr. Pine admitted. If someone is proposing a jail be built in a district, the supervisor for that district would likely fight it but, he told the committee, "that's not parochialism, that's representation."


Posted by Utter McKinley, a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on May 4, 2010 at 5:55 am

Why not try district elections? We are the ONLY county in the State that does not use this system. We can always vote to change it back, as the California constitution allows for this flexibility. Moreover, when you call the County to seek a Supervisor's assistance, you get pushed over to the supervisor who represents your if they already behave this way, what incentive could these supervisors have to oppose changes to how they are elected. It's all about the money and the escalation of their political careers.....

As far as I can see, Supervisors and the unions that support them like to see County-wide versus District elections. County Supervisors like this because it makes it so easy to springboard into State politics (another pension).... all one has to so it examine the support record by SEIU and Building and Trades unions for successfully appointed or elected Supervisorial candidates to see there is something pretty smelly happening there. The Sacramento Bee has reported San Mateo County is leading the State in unfunded pension obligations. How can this happened?

It is not just ethnic diversity which is grossly misrepresented by the current county-wide system, but the coast side, from Alice's Restaurant, south the county line, and west to the ocean basically is completely ignored and one really has to rattle a few cages to get a non-cost centered service performed, for example building code compliance. The services the County provides for citizens coast side are as ineffectual or non-existent, as they are slow of foot or deficit in responsibility. Compare, for example, these County services and compare it to, say The towns of Woodside, Atherton, or Portola Valley. Is this equality?

Government is for the people, by the people... Open and Transparent and equal is what we demand in our government. We all pay into the tax base, let's get some equal representation and service for all residents of incorporated and unincorporated San Mateo County, which includes sections of Menlo Park and Redwood City.

Now how about a look at The County District Lines.....

Posted by Pay Attention, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 4, 2010 at 12:15 pm

There are so many reasons to have district elections and stop the appointment process. The appointed supervisors run unopposed with endorsements from all the powerful San Mateo County unions, sheriff employees, fire fighters, county jailers, and past and present supervisors. This trail of handing down the public seats to people who have the same political interests goes back over 35 years. Power in the same hands.

Meanwhile, the southern county has little representation on the transit boards because our supervisor was appointed and takes her direction from the norther county power base.

This is not conspiracy theory gone amuck. It is important to Menlo Park.

Posted by Susan Smith, a resident of Woodside: other
on May 4, 2010 at 4:34 pm

I just can't believe the San Mateo coun ty borad of supervisors hold their meetings in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. If Portola Valley, menlo park, Woodside, San Carols, San Mateo, Pacifica, Burlingame or Hillsborogh tried to pull that stunt, well, heads would roll. And when you finally get to a meeting, you are only allowed 2 minutes to make a comment. It's as if they want to avoid contact with the electorate. Change the system, better it for the people.

Posted by Michael Stogner, a resident of another community
on May 4, 2010 at 9:12 pm

The Charter Review Committee which has no ordinary citizen on it completely eliminated the appointment part of their inquiry/recommendation. We MUST take away the appointment authority of the Supervisors. They have been discussing it right up to the last meeting when they made the recommendation to the Supervisors...Nice Move.

Welcome to San Mateo County

Posted by margaret dorfman, a resident of Atherton: other
on May 5, 2010 at 1:42 pm

I support District wide elections.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields