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Things get heated at Charter Review Committee hearing

By From page A9 | August 06, 2014

One action to delete a section was taken by the Charter Review Committee amidst a heated debate and one committee member announcing that she was planning on introducing a bill to the state Legislature.

The hearing began with Cherie Raffety, the county treasurer-tax collector, asking the committee to review the Grand Jury candidate process at a later hearing. Though deputy county counsel Judith Kerr later said it would likely fall under state law and be a short discussion, the matter was scheduled for a later meeting.

Ross Branch of the Chief Administration Office confirmed that the three recommendations the committee had proposed to the Board of Supervisors had been heard and will be on the November ballot. Further recommendations, he said, will not appear until the June 2016 ballot, assuming the board accepts them.

The committee then discussed Section 402 of the charter, concerning the term limits of elected department heads.

Kerr had looked in to the matter and her conclusion for whether the charter could affect the elected officials’ term limits was simple: “No.”

Cases, she said, as previously noted by the Mountain Democrat, had decided it was unlawful and unconstitutional for a charter to define term limits for elected officials other than the Board of Supervisors. This has since been upheld multiple times.

Committee member Rachel Michelin, who had been outspoken in wanting to either limit both the board and elected officials or do away with all term limits, said she had placed calls to attorneys for the state Legislature. Senate Bill 2 in 1995, signed by Gov. Pete Wilson, put term limits on boards of supervisors, community service districts and more. “Any other elected entity in this county, but not elected heads,” she said. So, she “started the ball rolling” on introducing legislation to allow charter counties the option to put term limits on elected department heads. The bill could be introduced next January, to be signed in October 2015 and be on a ballot for voters in 2016. It would, due to not taking effect retroactively, be effective as of 2020.

Michelin suggested that the committee could suggest an action predicated on the eventual passing of the legislation. “It will help give voice back to the people,” she said.

A heated discussion, mostly between Michelin and Committee Chair Kris Payne, began. Payne was unsure if that was possible. Kerr said it was not something they could suggest the board do that day. Payne noted that the previous three recommendations had no legal problems and conformed to current legislation.

“It’s such an easy thing,” Michelin said. “I think this is a solution, it gives more options,” she said.

“Show me the path,” Payne said, “how we get from the Charter Committee to the board.”

Committee member Terri Gherardi said that the committee did not have to disband this year — the next committee would not be formed until 2019. She suggested the committee “stick around” until 2016 and then propose action.

A solution had been presented by Michelin, said committee member Jim Hill, and he said the committee should “Maybe do something different, step up, go out on a limb.” It would pass the ball forward. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” He said he saw no harm in asking.

Michelin concluded that a recommendation based on the possible legislation “opens up a dialogue” for the board. She said she would be happy to write a memo to the board explaining the reasoning. Committee member Cathy Staller said that the recommendation “at least puts it on the radar” for the board.

The initial discussion would not be for a year and a half, Gherardi pointed out. She questioned what action the board could take now, and that the action would “remain in limbo.”

Payne was in favor of continuing the item until later, but Michelin was adamant that the board begin discussion soon. The public was then asked to comment.

Todd White, an elected member of the high school district board, thought any action the committee took based on proposed legislation, “Does seem rather premature.” He said he would not be able to propose something to the school board if something was not currently legal. He added, “Voters are not stupid,” and that if they did not like an elected official, voters “will eventually vote them out.” The elected heads also have special training, and there was “not a laundry list of those willing and able” to take those positions. He suggested the committee not waste time and do something more productive.

Calling the matter “ludicrous,” Larry Weitzman agreed with White.

Raffety said she was “really saddened” that experience the elected heads have was being diminished by the proposed changes. She called it “insulting.”

Gherardi and Payne were against taking action; the committee decided to continue the item to a later date.

Next was Section 202, regarding term limits for supervisors. Michelin was “still worried” about department heads and supervisors having different terms, but Kerr reminded her that legislation controls supervisors’ term limits through Government Code 25000.

The committee discussed changing wording and deleting redundancies, but ended with continuing the item to a later date.

Payne introduced his new proposed changes to the preamble, with help from Weitzman, regarding a respectful workplace. Meanings of words — especially as pertained to possible litigation — were discussed. Proposed paragraphs were cut, the phrase “public trust” added from the County Code of Ethics, and the item continued so that changes could be written down in a solid form for later.

After discussion on section 210(c), the committee decided to recommend deleting the entire section. It was redundant as state law superseded it, and should state law change, they could recommend changing it later. The motion for the recommendation passed unanimously, though there was no timeline on passing the recommendation to the board.

The next meeting of the committee will be on Sept. 22 at 5 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors chambers.

Cole Mayer

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