Should voters decide how county supervisors are elected? No way, says the supervisors themselves.
In a 4-1 vote on July 13, the board rejected a proposal from the county charter review committee that voters decide in November whether the supervisors should be elected county-wide, as they are now, or by district, the way supervisors are elected in every other county in California.
Twice in the 1990s, voters rejected a change in the way supervisors are elected, noted board President Rich Gordon, who cast the sole vote to put the question before voters again in November.
(San Mateo County does have supervisory districts. Candidates must live within the district they represent, but they must run county-wide. Mr. Gordon is in District 3, which includes Menlo Park, Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley.)
The 16-member county charter review committee, which held 13 public meetings over six months, had recommended on a 14-2 vote to put the question before voters.
The committee made other recommendations, including:
● Changing the methods for filling vacant seats when elected officials resign. The Board of Supervisors agreed to put that on the ballot.
● Appointing rather than electing the treasurer/tax collector and auditor/controller. The supervisors rejected that recommendation.
● Reviewing the need for each of the county's 49 boards and commissions. The supervisors approved this with conditions.
The charter review committee actually expressed opposition, on an 11-4 vote, to changing how supervisors are elected, but on a 14-2 vote said the question should be decided by voters. They were "persuaded that there was enough energy and public debate of the issue that the voters of the county should be allowed to select the method of electing their representatives to the board," the committee said in its report.
Mr. Gordon agreed that the matter "really needed to go to the ballot for the citizens to make the decision."
No, it doesn't, said his colleagues. "Every resident gets five supervisors and I think that's the way it should be," said Supervisor Carole Groom.
And the voters? "The Board of Supervisors decides what goes to the voters and the board has made its decision," she said. "Why clutter the ballot?"
Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson did not respond to an interview request.
The committee's recommendations, said Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, are the board's to "accept or reject. I didn't feel the need to change (the election procedures)."
"The board has the discretion to make decisions to not put a particular matter on the ballot," said Supervisor Mark Church. "We are elected to make these kinds of decisions."
"Wow. That's surprising," said Woodside mayor and committee member Dave Burow upon learning of the board's vote to not authorize a ballot measure. "Obviously, as a committee member, I'm disappointed."
As was Portola Valley Councilwoman Maryann Derwin, who reported on the board's decision at the June 14 meeting, and added, "I'm very disappointed."
Accountable to voters
On the issue of changing the county treasurer and auditor to appointed, rather than elected, positions, the charter review committee noted several concerns, including whether these officials should be accountable to voters or county officials.
An argument for appointment is that a for-hire official would have to demonstrate expertise in a job interview, for example.
The supervisors voted unanimously to keep things as they are, noting that expertise in particular areas, if needed, can be hired.
These officials are now accountable to voters, Mr. Church told The Almanac. "You lose that accountability if that position is appointed."
"I think it would put too much power into the hands of the county manager," Ms. Tissier said.
The board had approved in February an ordinance setting qualification standards for the county treasurer, but the standards won't be effective until the 2015 election, Supervisor Groom noted. "I was in favor of putting them into effect now," she said.
In addition to supporting by-district supervisor elections, Woodside Mayor Burow wanted these finance officials appointed. A final comment? "I guess there's just strong support for the status quo," he said.