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


Posted 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

Comment 1
Fri, January 15, 2010 2:58pm
Carl May
All my comments

Took one look at the makeup of the Charter Review Commission, saw the deck was stacked, and moved on to more positive, interesting, and productive subjects. The group doesn’t have the potential for making fundamental improvements becaause it is “owned” by the status quo.

I attended that meeting, which was not recorded and any minutes or notes will by prepared by Michael Murphy our County Counsel. Not one of the 300 citizens who have completed the SMC CITIZENS ACADEMY is named to this committee. These are people who dedicated 8-12 weeks of their personal time so they could contribute to our County if needed.
The public needs to witness this.
The next meeting is set for 1/27/10 @ 5PM same location.

RESOLUTION NO. _____________


* * * * * *



RESOLVED, by the Board of Supervisors of the County of San Mateo, State of California, that

WHEREAS, San Mateo County Charter section 801 provides that the Board of Supervisors shall convene a Charter review committee within eight years of the last complete Charter review and that said committee shall review the Charter and, after public hearings, make appropriate recommendations for amendment or revision to the Board; and

WHEREAS, the last Charter review committee convened by this Board was in 2002, and this Board has determined that a committee should be convened to review the Charter in 2010; and

WHEREAS, the Board desires that any recommendation of the Charter review committee to amend the Charter be received by June 30, 2010 in order to allow the Board adequate time to consider the recommendations and to further consider whether to place any amendments to the Charter on the November 3, 2010 election ballot:



A 2010 Charter Review Committee of 17 members is hereby established, the membership of which shall be selected as follows: (1) each member of the Board shall appoint two residents from his or her Supervisorial District; and (2) one person shall be designated by each of the following seven organizations for appointment to the Committee by the Board of Supervisors: the Council of Cities, County School Boards Association, League of Women Voters, Central Labor Council, SamCEDA, Sustainable San Mateo County, and Youth Commission.


The Committee shall appoint a Chair to preside over meetings of the Committee, and a Vice Chair to preside in the absence of the Chair.


The Committee will comply with the open meeting and other requirements set forth in the Ralph M. Brown Act.


Nine members shall constitute a quorum of the Committee and shall also be the voting requirement for approval of recommendations.


The County Counsel and County Manager, or their designees, shall provide staff support for the Committee.


The Charter Review Committee should submit to the Board, no later than June 30, 2010, such recommendations, consistent with the State Constitution and other provisions of State law, which in its opinion are appropriate.


In its review of the Charter, the Committee should specifically address the recommendations regarding Board member elections and filling Board vacancies, issued by the 2008-09 Civil Grand Jury in its report entitled “Appointment vs. Election: How Should the Vacated Board of Supervisor Seats Be Filled?”, and its June 30, 2009 advisory letter recommending that the Charter Review Committee consider changing the method of electing members of the Board of Supervisors from the current “at large” system to a “by district” system, and should further consider consolidation and reorganization of departments and other organization improvements requiring a Charter amendment.

The jury is stacked and Michael Murphy is the unofficial chair.  What else is new? 

Very few members of the public attended the first meeting.  I hope more people come to the next Charter Review Committee meeting on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 5:00pm.

During public comment I read a letter supporting the June 30, 2009 Grand Jury Report.

Public comment was the last item on the agenda.  During public comment I also requested the following:

Meetings should be located throughout the County so the public has an opportunity to participate in the process. 

An email address for the Committee should be posted on the County website so the public can correspond with Charter Review Committee members.

The meeting should be video taped and broadcast on television and the internet. 

Public comment should be moved to the beginning on the meeting.

I requested ALL committee questions for County Counsel and all responses to questions by County Counsel be posted on the County website to make the process more transparent. 
The request was made in response to the following:  During the meeting Michael Murphy recommended that all committee questions be emailed to his office for review and Cced to committee members.  Murphy said he would respond with answers to committee questions via email and Cc the committee.  COULD THIS BE CONSIDERED A POSSIBLE BROWN ACT VIOLATION?

Putting public comment at the end of the agenda is a transparent way of telling the public that the organization doesn’t care what the public thinks.