A more open process is needed for the county’s Charter Review Commission


By on Thu, January 14, 2010

On Jan. 13, 2010, the newly created San Mateo County Charter Review Commission met to begin discussing possible changes to the way our county is governed. This may include changing the way San Mateo County supervisors are elected from an at-large or countywide process to one in which supervisors must reside in and be elected by voters in a specific district, when supervisors can be appointed to fill mid-term vacancies or perhaps propose changes to some of the elected administrative offices such as the San Mateo County Treasurer’s post.

But the process for establishing this commission, as required by the county charter to conduct such reviews every eight years, is curious.

The 17-member panel was created out of whole cloth with little in the way of a transparent or public process. No members of the public were really offered the chance to volunteer for this important job and many of the slots were awarded to county organizations that do not necessarily have any direct relationship to performing such a task.

Ten of the 17 members were appointed by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and include many familiar faces who include former aides to elected officials, retired locals officeholders and others who are supporters of the supervisors who appointed them.

In addition, two of seats are occupied by individuals placed on the commission by virtue of their relationship to specific organizations designated as sponsors of individual seats including the San Mateo County Central Labor Council and the San Mateo County League of Women Voters.

Why both of these organizations, as well as several others, were designated to send delegates to this commission is unclear but certainly some logic could be ascribed to tapping the expertise

of the League of Women Voters but why the Labor Council among many representative organizations that exists in the County was so designated is less clear.

Of particular interest however is the fact that both the representatives from these organizations, including Labor Council executive Shelly Kessler and Kathy Everitt of the League of Women Voters, served on this very same Charter Review Commission in 2002. While these individuals may be willing volunteers why are new members of the public not being offered an opportunity to serve in such an important capacity?

But of most concern is the fact that one of the organizations provided the opportunity to name a commission member is the San Mateo County Economic Development Association (SAMCEDA). This organization, while surely worthwhile for its members, is an advocate for the business interests of some of the county’s largest corporations. As a major corporate development advocate, there is little to suggest why this organization should play such a large role in shaping the county’s government for the next decade.

SAMCEDA’s presence on the Commission is particularly troubling as the individual nominated to represent SAMCEDA, CEO Dan Cruey, is not a registered voter in San Mateo County. The question must be asked, why is an individual with no personal stake in shaping San Mateo County’s government or any ability to vote for the many potential reforms that could come out of this process have a major voice on shaping those same outcomes.

Mr. Cruey, while perhaps a fine individual, does not belong on this important commission and his presence is a clear demonstration that the development of the structure of this commission is a questionable endeavor.

Lastly, the final seat on this commission will be awarded to a member of the County’s Youth Commission who has yet to be named publicly. Will this individual even be old enough to vote on the critical issues they will help to shape? Adding an individual with so little in the way of experience or understanding of these issues is unwise and insulting to San Mateo County voters.

Unfortunately, the so-called Charter Review Commission is yet another example of the tragically tone-deaf leaders of San Mateo County blindly and blithely ignoring and excluding the public they represent.

Instead of this backroom deal to seat cronies and friends, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors should scrap this process and go back to the drawing board.

A readily available model exists under the Voters First Act authorized by Californians as Proposition 11 on the 2008 General Election ballot. This initiative, designed to allow average citizens to draw legislative boundaries following the 2010 Census, provides for a clear, transparent and open process for average citizens to make major changes to the way their government will work. The provisions of the act specifically exclude officeholders and existing political party officers, employees, or paid consultants of a California political party or of the campaign committee of a candidate for California congressional or elective state office among many exclusions. Instead, the Act establishes a process by which average citizens can apply and be selected through a lottery process so long as they meet the basic criteria for serving.
It’s time for our Supervisors to establish an honest process that provides real opportunities for members of the San Mateo County voting public participate in a government for the people and by the people