Term Limits – Yes Or No?

NOPARKING-1Term limits restricting the number of successive terms of office that may be served by elected officials has always been a controversial issue.

Brea has never had term limits and I, along with a growing number of others apparently, believe it’s time to put it to a vote.

The almost perpetual reelection of career politicians prevents the rise of new voices in government. By instituting term limits, the problems of the status quo can be solved, and more responsible, accountable candidates and Council members may arise.

Here are arguments in favor of term limits that, IMHO, make a lot of sense to me.

Term limits restore rotation in office and government by the people.

It is unfortunate that politics has become an accepted career path. It is better that participation in government be brief. Term limits will put an end to municipal politics becoming a cushy “lifetime” job, making elected service more a limited leave of absence from a productive career in the private sector.

Without term limits, the temptation to remain in office for decades keeps people seeking reelection long after they have accomplished all the legislative good of which they are capable. It does not take long for legislators to become more occupied with their relationships with each other and with lobbyists, than with their constituents. They pass their “use by” date.

Local government works best when it functions as a citizen council, in which people who pursue careers other than politics enter office for a brief time to do their community service, and then leave to reenter society as private citizens. The typical agenda of today’s career politicians is only to build their own power and influence base ahead of representing the people they were elected to serve.

Term limits make for better elections and empower new leaders and ideas.

Incumbency provides a huge electoral advantage. Sitting politicians, unlike poor Mr. Murdock, almost always win reelection. Over the past 30 years it had become virtually impossible to unseat an incumbent until the grassroots effort of Operation Clean Sweep lit up Brea ballot boxes.

People have a tendency to vote for people they recognize. Donors and special interest groups (in the past I’ve referred to them as the old guard) tend to support past winners who will likely continue to benefit their interests. Term limits actually increase voter choice by making elections more competitive and encouraging more candidates to run.

In communities where term limits have been instituted there is far higher turnover amongst elected officials, giving voters more choice in who should represent them. Ultimately, long term council members using political machines to retain power do their community and constituents a disservice. Power is best used when it changes hands over time in order to allow for dynamic new solutions.

Term limits prevent corruption and exploitation of office.

FINGERS-LWith a few exceptions like Koreagate and the Energy Coalition, Brea has been blessed with a history of well intentioned and ethical leaders. One only need to think of the City of Industry and Bell to realize the magnitude of the risk.

Sure, we’ve seen behavior that danced perilously close to the edge of the Brown Act. Local politics have always been a bit rough and tumble… and personality clashes are unfortunately more commonplace than one would prefer.

That said, when a career politician is firmly entrenched, they may seek to enrich themself at the expense of the public, to shower unearned perks upon family and allies in order to maintain and strengthen their powerful position.

Term limits serve to limit the ability of individuals to put forward self-serving legislation and to retain power indefinitely. Instead, with term limits, elected officials have only a limited time in power, which tends to shift their focus toward genuinely benefiting the public.

Term limits trigger action over apathy.

A major focus of any elected official hoping to serve another term is on the next election and on vote-getting. It is often the case that hard decisions need to be made but it is difficult for them to do so when they are fixated on being reelected. Elected officials have an incentive to put tough decisions off if they can retain power by doing so.

An example of such seemingly perpetual procrastination (climbing on my soapbox for a moment) is the interminable delays in allowing public comment on the creation of an Environmental Advisory Board.

For almost a year Council has been asked to hold a town meeting to determine how broad an interest, or lack of same, Brea residents have in local environmental issues. A simple word to the City Manager and it could have happened months ago.

When constrained by term limits, elected officials must make the most of their limited time in office, resulting in greater prioritization of difficult decisions and reform. While there will always be some of this behavior, it is curtailed by term limits, as elected officials will, in their final term at the very least, not be beholden to as many special interests as they cannot run again.

Where do you stand?

Is it time at last to finish what Operation Clean Sweep started and let term limits put an end to career politicians in Brea?

VOTECOUNTS

Treasurer Selection Not An Easy Choice.

Study SessionEveryone, Council, staff and followers of local government, were surprised when eleven Breans applied for the City Treasurer position vacated when Glenn Parker was reelected to Council. Most had expected no more than three or four candidates to emerge.

In a meeting that began on Friday, January 23 and was continued to Tuesday, January 27, Council managed the arduous task of interviewing all applicants and then pressed on to reach a consensus selecting a new City Treasurer. For those interested, the meeting’s agenda and all applications are available on the city’s website.

Applicants, in order of interview were Don Parker, Michael Becher, Marlan Merhab, Roy Moore, Jim Grosse, Gary Terrazas, Joseph Galligan, Bill Christensen, Phil Anton, Gill Realon and Kenneth Palmer. An interesting note, as the interview conflicted with a long planned holiday, Council agreed to allow Bill Christensen to teleconference his interview from Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Thinning out the list.

If you’ve looked over the City Treasurer applications, you’ll have some idea of just how tough job Council faced. Every applicant was well qualified with decades of executive level experience. Council’s first step was to agree upon a tight set of criteria, opting for someone with a strength in managing major investment portfolios over CPAs with mostly P&L and budget management background. As Brea has an average of $50 million at stake in the investment pool at any one time, I have to agree.

This focus made it possible to move five names out of contention. Mayor Simonoff then asked for each Council member to list their top three choices. All but Glenn Parker were able to do so. Glenn seemed to be advocating for a single candidate but later acquiesced and added one more name. Pressing on, the lists merged to provide a basic ranking and animated discussion followed.

I must say that, as I observed this process for a little over seven hours, I was elated to see Council engaged in a friendly, respectful, open and productive way. I hadn’t seen that sort of behavior with previous Councils going back through several regimes.

There were a couple of delicate moments when signs of personal favoritism and possible political ties slipped into the dialog but Mayor Simonoff and the other Council members skillfully defused the situations and productive discussion moved on.

The finalists emerged.

After an hour or so, Gill Realon, Bill Christensen and Phil Anton made the short list. Discussion continued comparing the merits of each to the objectives set at the beginning of the meeting. TreasurerUltimately, after another half hour, Mayor Pro Tem Marick moved to approve Bill Christensen as the Treasurer and the motion was quickly seconded by Council member Vargas.

A voice vote was taken and Council voted unanimously to appoint Bill Christensen. Mayor Simonoff’s suggestion that the City Clerk contact the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia to inform Bill Christensen of Council’s decision was met with a chuckle and the meeting was adjourned.

A closing thought.

One of the applicant’s suggested, given the depth of the applicant’s talent pool and their willingness to serve, that Council put more of them to work by creating a citizen’s advisory or oversight committee to help keep an eye on city finances.

Great idea! First assignments should be evaluating whether restructuring of Brea’s Fire Department, twice, has produced the savings promised by the City Manager… conducting an audit of the solar energy program to establish whether or not it is paying for itself as promised and finally, developing the framework for a “Get Out Of Debt” plan that would eradicate Brea’s unfunded pension and medical liabilities.

Other views in the news?

Doubtful, the only non-city person in the room besides myself was the pool boy’s pet wannabe blogger, Greg Diamond. Greg DiamondNo one from any reputable newspaper felt it worth covering I guess.

Arriving late, well over two hours after the meeting began, Diamond berated the City Clerk for allowing Council to move expeditiously through the interviews (as if that were her job) and then set up his tripod and camera which he fiddled with periodically throughout what was left of the evening.

While I suppose he captured most of the final three or four interviews and perhaps a bit of the Council discussion that followed, his constant preoccupation with his phone and incessant texting took his attention off of the meeting. He spent 90% of his time focused upon posting his signature lengthy rants to whatever blog he was bombarding.

Anyone who has watched a Council meeting on TV and attended the meeting live will tell you there is no comparison. You take in so much more by being in the room and paying attention than what you could possibly get watching disjointed video clips captured on a static camera or two.

Greg DiamondWatching video clips instead of actually paying attention so severely hampers Diamond’s take on the meeting I question how faithful to the truth his reporting could possibly be.

I’m sure his longwinded poison pen version will be laced with invectives, condemnation and unfounded criticisms that are nothing more than malicious attacks… instead of providing credible journalism or making any honorable effort to inform citizens or positively impact public policy.

He seems to be working out his own self esteem issues at the expense of others. This would explain why he and the pool boy are such tight buddies, they share so much in common… starting with delusions of grandeur and acute narcissism.