Charter review committee makes first recommendation

By From page A1 | July 21, 2014

The El Dorado County Charter Review Committee made its first recommendation — changing the upper limit to begin a special election following the vacancy of a supervisor in an effort to consolidate with possible scheduled elections from 120 days to 180 days — to the Board of Supervisors in a meeting Monday evening.

The meeting, with about 25 people in the audience, began with an open forum. Todd White, member of the county School Board Association, wanted to encourage a more respectful work environment in the county and questioned whether the Board of Supervisors could do with a pay cut. Neil Cunningham, foreman of last year’s Grand Jury, urged the committee to contact other counties to see how elected officials are handled and whether moving some officials to being appointed helped or hindered the county. Lindell and Stanley Price both believed that there should be more supervisors on the board, though Judith Kerr of the County Counsel’s Office said that the number was set by state law and it would take legislation to change.

The committee then turned to Section 202 of the charter, concerning terms of office for supervisors. Committee Chairman Kris Payne’s recommendation was to remove “No person elected supervisor may serve as such for more than two successive four-year terms” and replace it with “No person having served two successive four-year terms may serve as a supervisor until at least four years after the expiration of the second successive term in office.”

“It’s not anything dramatic,” he told the committee. He believed that the words were what the past committees meant but did not put in words.

Committee member Rachel Michelin believed the structure of term limits — or lack thereof — was causing a “merry-go-round of folks” in office. She believed there should be a three-term limit and then officials would “go off into the sunset,” moving on to other offices. Ultimately, either all elected officials in the county should have term limits, or none should, she said.

The elected official should be training someone to replace them, Jim Hill said, agreeing with Michelin. However, as former Supervisor Jack Sweeney said at the previous meeting, if voters do not like the job the official is doing, they will not reelect the official. However, doing an informal survey, he said, 70 percent of people did not know who the elected officials were, and that if they were not in the newspaper and did not “step on toes,” they must be doing a good job.

Committee member Terry Gherardi was not opposed to the new language for supervisors; Cathy Staller agreed with Michelin.

Public comments were divided. Carol Louis of Placerville agreed with Michelin, but pointed out that it takes at least two years for a new supervisor to get up to speed. Mountain Democrat Editor Mike Raffety covered the board when there were no term limits and noted the supervisors limited themselves to three terms and then “just packed it in.” White wasn’t sure any elected official needed limits; they could be voted out. Bernard Carlson of El Dorado did not want to see any change.

The next topic was Section 203 — filling vacancies of the board. Based on testimony, Payne suggested amending the upper limit from 120 days to 180 days consolidate a special election with a scheduled election, possibly saving the county $100,000 as per Recorder-Clerk Bill Schultz’s suggestion. The committee was in agreement, with Hill calling the amendment a “no brainer” due to the money saved. After public comment, Michelin moved to make the suggestion to the board, with Hill seconding. The motion was unanimously passed.

The committee moved to elected department heads, Section 402 of the charter. As with the previous meeting, the discussion centered around whether elected department heads should remain elected or should be appointed, barring three state-mandated elected positions. Experience and expertise of elected officials as a requirement was also a topic of discussion.

Staller, who admitted to having the least experience on the committee, agreed that applicants to the position need proper experience. Gherardi, having been an assistant to two supervisors, said that elected officials always have expertise in their field. Hill called the elected officials of the county some of the best department heads he has seen, with excellent responsiveness. He wondered if a change to the charter was needed. Michelin was unsure and wanted more time to investigate the issue. Payne said his proposed additions referencing qualifications merely clarified the section.

“I don’t buy into how hard it is to find someone qualified and willing,” Michelin said, an argument that was previously brought up. It is, she said, hard to run against an incumbent.

Playing devil’s advocate, Payne said that the best departments are those with the most experienced leadership and make an effort to run the office with responsibility. The officials who have held the position for years have the knowledge to run complex offices.

The problem with hiring someone with a high level of experience, Gherardi said, was that it could take months. There are deadlines that department heads must meet. Michelin brought this back to the supervisors, wondering why they should have term limits if they have gained the expertise needed. Payne agreed.

Hill blamed voter apathy and the high cost of running against an incumbent as to why there are few competitors in elections. He said there are “super qualified people out there, but they don’t want to come in ‘first loser,’” especially after spending the money on a campaign.

During public comment, Susan Fredricks, of District 3, asked if there was a retirement age of 65 in the county. As there was not, she believed that term limits or forced retirement were good options as she “believe(s) in fresh blood.” Louis said she believed the recent county cultural atmosphere study showed that change was needed. She said that one office — Auditor-Controller Joe Harn’s — was not cooperative. Steve Ferry of El Dorado Hills disagreed. He called Harn a “pit bull” and that his position is not one that is supposed to be well-liked; it’s one that Ferry wants to “get the job and done well.” Bernard Carlson agreed. Cunningham said the appointment process could pick from all over the country.

The committee agreed it needed more time to look into the issue.

The next agenda item was promoting a respectful workplace. Payne suggested altering the preamble of the charter. Gherardi did not think the preamble was the correct place for this. While she understood Payne’s passion for the change, Staller said the change had “no teeth” and was not convinced “the charter is the right area for it to go.” Michelin also had doubts.

Treasurer-Tax Collector Cherie Raffety told the committee during public comment that the sentiment was one that needed to be expressed — employees need to be courteous to each other and to the taxpayers — but was not sure where it belonged. Lindell and Stanley Price suggested just adding a word or two about health to the preamble. Larry Weitzman also felt the proposed change “lacked teeth” but could be a “legal nightmare.”

Committee members again decided to hold off making a decision, with Payne wanting his proposed amendment tabled for later discussion.

The final item dealt with redistricting. Kerr informed the committee that redistricting was governed by state statute, but San Diego County, through legislation, was able to change their redistricting from state norms to have retired judges do the redistricting.

The next hearing will be on Monday, July 21 at 5 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors Chambers.

Cole Mayer

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