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?


Tilting At Windmills

If you missed the emergency meeting of the City Council at 11:30 Tuesday morning, you’re in the vast majority. The third floor conference room was virtually empty. Three residents, a handful of staff (hopefully on their lunch break with nothing better to do), the City Manager, the City Attorney, The City Clerk and four out of five Council members was about it.

What was so important?

Arguments for and against the two citizen supported initiatives on the November ballot had to be filed no later than 5:30 that evening. Mayor Schweitzer and Mayor Pro Tem Murdock called the meeting to seek Council approval on the arguments they had written opposing the “Brea Accountability Act” and the “Brea Open Governance Act” but oops… once again they had the cart before the horse.

The sharp eye of our City Clerk, Cheryl Balz, discovered that, before anything could be written, Council had to formerly delegate the task — which it had never done. City Attorney, Jim Markman, took blame for the oversight and Council set about fixing their blunder.

But first, Matters from the audience.

Up strode Mr. Glenn Vodhanel. Having somehow become the recipient of the rough drafts by Schweitzer and Murdock, he was justifiably livid… but calmly leveled over a dozen succinct questions at Council regarding the content of the drafts — none the least of which was to challenge the pointed attempt to use character assassination to attack the credibility of the measures. Obviously pointing the poison pen at Mr. Vodhanel, the drafts suggested him as the sole source of the challenge to the status quo and described his work as the “spiteful effort of a single individual.”

Really? Did they overlook the fact that several thousand registered Brea voters, almost as many as voted in the last election, felt these matters were worth consideration?

Really? They felt that this sort of childish retribution best represented Council’s position on these initiatives?

And, as Mr. Vodhanel returned to his seat, the only response was the Mayor’s angry retort, “Where did you get access to [private] counsel documents?” Mr. Vodhanel appropriately declined to answer.

The Mayor then made inquiry of the City Attorney on the matter and was reminded that he needed to conclude Matters from the Audience before asking questions. Oops again.

The only other person to speak, Keith Fullington, was quick to remind Council that what he had just witnessed more than justified considering the Open Governance Act.

Cleaning up their act.

To handle the necessary housekeeping, a motion was made by MPT Murdoch to delegate the writing of the arguments (and rebuttals if necessary). This was followed by a painfully long silence. With crossed fingers, I hoped the motion would fail due to lack of second.

Then Councilman Garcia muttered his second and the fireworks went off a day early.

Roy Moore, after getting clarification from Mr. Markman that delegating the task meant also giving up his right to review and approve the language, said that he was not at all comfortable with this approach. No other discussion followed and, as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing time and time again, Schweitzer, Murdock and Garcia lined up in favor of the motion and Roy Moore abstained. (Note: Councilman Simonoff was out of town on business and unable to attend. I can’t imagine he would have been any happier about this turn of events than was Councilman Moore.)

With most of the mess carefully swept under the rug, and with no further legal or compelling reason to even acknowledge that draft arguments had been written and circulated to Council the week prior (can you say Brown Act violation?), Mayor Schweitzer quickly adjourned the meeting and everyone scattered like rats leaving a sinking ship.

So, where do we go from here?

Within the next few days final arguments for and against the initiatives, as well as Mr. Markman’s “Impartial Analysis” of the measures will be posted on the city website. I’ve read these documents (I made specific request of the City Clerk to email them to me the moment they were part of the official public record) and you owe it to yourself to do the same.

Mr. Markman’s “impartial” analyses is loaded with the usual legalese and boilerplate language for which he is well known. He is quick to point out a couple of components as potentially not being legal, and clarifying why he felt they would be challenged should the measures pass in November. They’ll be challenged if for no other reason than the healthy legal fees that will be another windfall to his firm.

Here’s what I want you to do. Check the city website (if you have trouble, the City Clerk can be reached at (714) 990-7757), download and read all documents. C’mon, it will take the average reader less than twenty minutes to get through everything.

If it’s all clear to you and you find it easy to reach your own opinion on these matters, and I have no reason to think it wouldn’t be, vote.

Fewer than 25% of all registered Brea voters cast ballots in the last election. I know that you weren’t one of the slackers. Rock the vote in your neighborhood, will ya!

If you still have questions on these matters, talk to your friends and neighbors about it. Share what you know. Listen to what they have to say. I trust you’ll be able to reach a decision and I’m counting on you to vote on these initiatives in November.

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” ~ Generally attributed to Edmund Burke