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

Silence Isn’t Golden.

matter

(Thanks to Hugh MacLeod for his insightful doodle and thought for today.)

Assuming that Council does the right thing about Koreagate, that those who screwed up are held accountable and that the door is permanently closed to that sort of shenanigans, we have plenty on our plate that deserves close attention and it’s time for the folks that call Brea home to speak up.

The 560 Fund.

bigdump_aThe 560 Fund is Brea’s payback from Orange County for keeping the Olinda Alpha landfill open through December of 2021 and these monies were to mitigate the traffic, noise, road damage and provide other “community benefits.”

This purposefully nebulous phrase was slipped into the contract language to ensure there was virtually no limit on the number or type of boondoggles that could be foisted on an unsuspecting public.

DumptruckTotal income is expected to exceed $30 million dollars, and to date we’ve received $10.5 million and have less than $3 million left.  The 560 Fund has evolved into an obvious slush fund to avoid having to use the General Fund money to pay for the project du jour.

Again, the 560 Fund was never meant to be a slush fund but that is precisely what it’s becoming.  So… let’s play follow the money.

No return on our energy investment.

solarStaff tricked Council into making the first bond payments for the Solar Energy project, totaling over $1.7 million dollars, using the 560 Fund.  In case you forgot, that’s the green project staff sole sourced from Chevron Energy Solutions by duping Council into believing the project would pay for itself.

Though I don’t believe it’s been conducted yet, Chevron get’s to audit themselves, which our Finance Director characterizes as a cost saving effort.  Really?  Do you think for a minute they’ll admit to cutting down the cherry tree?

Judging a book by it’s cover.

libraryThere are those that would like to tap the 560 Fund to give a gift to the County of Orange by buying and remodeling the old Tower Records building, turning it into a new library.  Without question, this library idea is a project easily in the umpteen million dollar range.

The RDA already blew the chance to build a multilevel parking structure on Super Block 1.  Does anyone really think the city would take a property the scale of the Tower Records building off of the tax roles and then give it away?

Where do you plan to be in 2030?

engagementStaff wants to dig into the 560 Fund to pay nearly $300,000 dollars to some outside consultants to create public engagement opportunities under the guise of “Envision Brea 2030.”  The ruse is to get input from Breans, across all demographics, to help guide Council and staff as they plan their Brea of tomorrow.

Were you at the Community Center for the budget workshop to help set priorities for the Budget Strategic Planning (BSP) group?  Did you attend the public meeting to give input on reorganizing Brea’s Fire Department?  Did you participate in the group asked to suggest how to develop Rails to Trails and the community building on the Birch Street Golf Course? Were you able to let the city know what we might need for affordable and senior housing in the future?  Probably not, most people weren’t

Staff has made it quite clear that, unless you’re lucky enough to be one of Good Ol’ Brea’s pet special interest groups, you can keep your thoughts and ideas to yourself.

How about starting a savings account?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to set whatever is left of this 560 Fund aside, invest it, let it grow and have it available if and when we should get blindsided with some crisis?

We need to put a stop to their, “If we’ve got it, we’ve gotta spend it.” mentality.  What’s wrong with demanding that staff live within their means?  It’s what you teach your kids!

But wait… there’s more!

Under the single label of fiscal responsibility, we have an almost unending list of serious issues to keep an eye on.  In addition to Brea’s growing unfunded pension liability, now there’s rumored to be an OPEB (Other Postemployment Benefits – medical retirement) shortfall currently $17.3 million dollars and growing at nearly 30% each year. To make matters worse, Brea is totally unfunded for this liability.

We’re still trying to maintain a high functioning Fire Department with oversight by Fullerton and rebuild a Brea Only Police Department after getting dumped by Yorba Linda – neither situation having been properly reviewed by Council or a status report to the community provided.  What’s really working, and what isn’t?

You can also put CFD’s (Community Facilities Districts) on the watch list too.  Hamstrung by Prop 13’s capping property tax increases to no more than a limited inflation factor, CFD’s are a way to dodge Prop 13 and generate uncapped revenue.

When is a CFD not like Mello-Roos?

housingWhen it double taxes citizens, making them pay twice for the same infrastructure (police, fire, paramedics, etc.), all without a sunset clause when the costs have been recouped.

Even though they publicly admitted having reservations about double taxation and equity issues, Council members Moore and Marick joined with Garcia and Murdock last night (05/21) to approve CFD’s for Central Park Brea and Taylor Morrison developments – without having the broad discussion promised by staff, as Council member Simonoff reminded everyone, or conducting the public hearing (slated for 06/04).

At the public hearing, only the developers, as “property owners” will add their vote of approval, largely because they’ve had their feet held to the fire and just want to get on with things.  Who speaks for the almost 600 ultimate property owners that, through their CFD fees, will be stuck paying the bill… not until everything is paid off, but forever?  Where is their vote in this matter?

Isn’t it generally understood that the creation of new taxes requires a vote of the people?Don’t use the excuse that this is a fee when it’s obviously a tax.

How much longer can we afford a silent majority?

citizenTime’s up I’m afraid.  If you think you can continue to sit idly by, keeping your opinions to yourself, and everything will work out fine in the end… you’re wrong.  We can’t avoid confrontation any longer.  It’s never been more important than right now for everyone to step up and be heard.

Remember, if you’re not part of the solution…

 

Turning The Tide.

Mayor Don Schweitzer’s long awaited exit from public office puts the O’Donnell controlled voting block in precarious position for the first time in many years.

This, combined with the citizen backed initiatives seeking a more transparent, open governance and greater accountability from elected officials and salaried staff, means we may see local control of government back in the hands of a resident majority.

Of course this has made several special interest groups as nervous as nine-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs, so we’re likely to see a flurry of “hit pieces” show up in our mail around the time absentee ballots are distributed.

What really gripes me about these things is no one ever admits they’re involved in putting them out and there is hardly the barest thread of truth in them. Their “success” at character assassination is based on the inability of voters to properly fact check them.

The Line Up.

Two seats and five candidates might suggest an interesting, maybe heated and open race, but don’t hold your breath. Two candidates seem to be lurking in the shadows without making a serious run so it’s likely to be tighter than usual.

Marty Simonoff

At the top of the ballot is Marty Simonoff who has a proven track record of independent thinking and voting, who sees the big picture and understands how it effects the community overall. For those who have followed Brea politics for a while, Marty stands out as an experienced leader with an enviable history of public service and local philanthropy. Marty Simonoff offers the kind of seasoned stability Brea needs in the years ahead.

Steve Vargas

Having served on Council (’98-’02), Steve Vargas knows all too well how local politics work on the inside. Steve is a different man today than the exuberant youngster who took office 12 years ago. Amongst the first to recognize the financial threat posed by public employee pension liabilities and the drastic need to reform local government, a more mature Steve Vargas is making his strongest bid for council thus far.

Christine Marick

Undoubtedly well intentioned and certainly well educated, Christine Marick is making her first run for public office. With less than 2 years under her belt as a Planning Commissioner, the depth of her experience seems limited. In time, her background in municipal finance may help her acquire the skills needed but I have my reservations about whether she would hit the ground running. I’m also concerned that she seems predominantly backed by those who are desperate to retain their lock on Council control.

Christopher Parkin & Tory Stone

A 22 year old IT Specialist hoping to rein in Brea’s finances and curb Brea’s mounting debt, Christopher Parkin has high hopes for a millennial. You won’t find a ballot statement in the voter guide nor likely see him at the Chamber of Commerce Candidate’s Forum. His is a campaign in name only I’m afraid.

Many have tried to contact Tory Stone, all without success I’m told. Frankly, I’m at a complete loss why he would make the effort to gather nomination signatures, turn in the blizzard of paperwork and pay the ten bucks only to disappear into the woodwork. No PAC, no plan and no odds of getting more than a handful of votes from those who would think it funny to waste their vote on a non-candidate.

Final conclusion.

It is the right time and place to put Brea’s future back into the hands of it’s residents… at least those who understand the importance and value of their vote. (You are registered, right?)

If you watch over my shoulder as I fill out my absentee ballot, you’ll see me fill in the box next to the names Marty Simonoff and Steve Vargas… and voting a big YES on both Measure T “The Brea Accountability Act” and Measure U “The Brea Open Governance Act”.

 

(Editor’s Note 09/25/12:  After an obscenely lengthy hiring process, most of which was likely just O’Donnell’s moratorium on hiring – period, the City of Brea has promoted Tim Takahashi, an 11 year part-time veteran at the Senior Center, as it’s new full time Director.)