Viewpoint - July 21, 2010

Editorial: Supervisors make bad call on elections

San Mateo County's one-of-a-kind system of electing supervisors by a countywide vote will continue indefinitely following a decision last week by the five-member Board of Supervisors.

As the only one of the state's 58 counties that does not elect its supervisors by district, San Mateo County has been under pressure to reassess its position, which requires supervisors to live in a district but be elected by all county voters.

But last week, supervisors voted 4-1 to turn down a recommendation by a charter committee to place the election issue on the November ballot, thus killing the idea for the foreseeable future.

The problem with this incredibly arrogant decision, which takes away the public's right to weigh in on the matter, is that supervisors have an inescapable and very obvious conflict of interest. If voters decided to support district elections, these sitting supervisors would be much more likely to face spirited local opposition, rather than the often uncontested races that have marked elections for many years.

Only outgoing Supervisor Rich Gordon, who has won the Democratic primary for state Assembly, opposed turning down the vote-by-district measure. He said the "matter really needed to go to the ballot for the citizens to make the decision."

Supervisor Mark Church, who was just elected in an uncontested bid for assessor-clerk-recorder and will take office in January, disagreed. He told the Almanac: "The board has the discretion to make the decisions to not put a particular matter on the ballot. We are elected to make these kinds of decisions."

Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said the charter committee's recommendations are the board's to "accept or reject. I didn't feel the need to change (the election procedures)."

Supervisors must approve any issue that goes on the ballot, but in our view, the charter committee recommendation was different. Its 16 members did yeoman's work, meeting 13 times in a six-month period to study the county's election laws. Its recommendation to put the district election issue to a vote came after its own members voted internally to retain the current system. But despite their own sentiment, the committee urged supervisors to allow voters to make the final decision. The majority on the board would have done well to take its lead from the committee on this matter.

To their credit, the supervisors did agree to put a measure on the ballot that would force an election if a supervisor left office within the first 33 1/2 months of a four-year term. After that, the board could decide to fill the position by an all-mail ballot or by appointment, or to the board could leave the seat vacant until the next election. The process could begin as soon as a resignation letter was submitted.

It is a pity that supervisors did not extend voters the same courtesy to vote on district elections as they did on filling board vacancies. In our view, the public has a right to state its preference on both issues.

One way for supporters of district elections to prevail is to force the question onto the ballot by the initiative process. In our view, the supervisors' action was an incredible affront to the hard-working charter committee, as well as county voters. San Mateo County residents deserve an opportunity to consider electing their supervisors by district. If it's done that way in every other county in the state, the supervisors should investigate why that is and offer the voters a chance to give it serious consideration.


Posted by Jim Warren, a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jul 26, 2010 at 6:19 pm

The editors are absolutely right that this is a bad - and arrogant and self-serving - decision by the Supes. But what the editors failed to explain is WHY it's a bad call:

County-wide supervisorial elections in a county of more than 700,000 population means that only those candidates who can get access to huge campaign funds usually have any chance of winning. Special interests and politicians who are actually more interested in seeking higher office love it!

But it leaves smaller, and poorer, and less "significant" interest groups and communities with no functional chance of getting their "minority" views and concerns fairly represented.

The FY 2009-10 County budget (all funds) was $1.7-billion - with a "B" - and their structural "deficit is projected to grow to $150 million by FY 2015".

It's long overdue for San Mateo County to have district elections, to allow and encourage candidates who are more interested in representing local interests and serving San Mateo County, rather than those who too-often see the County Supe's office primarily as a springboard to higher office.

Since the Board won't allow the People to decide, the People should force it by ballot initiative.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Jul 26, 2010 at 7:40 pm


"In our view, the supervisors' action was an incredible affront to the hard-working charter committee, as well as county voters."

Don't forget the Grand Jury Report.

This group of (4) Mark Church, Rose Gibson, Adrienne Tissier, Carole Groom have not only ignored the wishes of the majority of San Mateo County voters they personally have caused potential financial damages from the lawsuit promised. They could have avoided this by placing it on the ballot. This is the action of only 4 people who should know better. They have legal counsel we pay for it.

Welcome to San Mateo County

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