Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Letter from our campaign to the Water District on term limits

(Below is a letter we sent on Monday about the proposed term limits and why they were inadequate. The District eventually improved upon the original proposal, although not quite enough. We'll post about that later. -Brian)

July 26, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Water District

Board of Directors

Re: Proposed term limits are so unrestrictive that they are worse than doing nothing, and should be drastically altered

Dear Chair Santos and Members of the Board:

Term limits have some disadvantages. In conversations I have had with Board Directors, I've been impressed with the breadth of experience and passion for their community that came with the length of service. However, the need for democratic accountability, the value of fresh ideas, and the virtual impossibility of defeating an elected incumbent mean the advantages of term limits, of meaningful term limits, outweigh their disadvantages.

For these reasons I advocate term limits of two or three terms as part of my own campaign, and I pledge to serve only two terms myself. While the District is to be applauded for its current consideration of term limits, the terms suggested are not truly meaningful and would do more harm than good by forestalling efforts at adequate term limits.

First, four terms are too many. Sixteen years plus additional years in office before the term limits come into effect simply provides inadequate opportunities for contested elections like the one we are seeing now in the District 7 election. The length exceeds other terms of office, including the three term limit set for the County Board of Supervisors. Two terms or three terms constitute a meaningful restriction that should be applied.

Second, the limits fail to consider the terms served by sitting Directors, creating a situation where Directors who have already served for a decade or more could then be allowed to serve an additional sixteen years. If the Water District acknowledges that term limits should be imposed, then the argument for imposing them applies to sitting Directors and their terms served. I proposed that term limits should apply to anyone serving as Director beginning after the 2012 election, and should consider the previous terms. This would mean that all sitting Directors could participate in at least one more election (2010 or 2012) and serve one more complete term above and beyond the terms already served, while still ensuring meaningful restrictions apply to sitting Directors.

Third, the lack of a meaningful required absence period from the District board reduces the usefulness of term limits and opens the possibility of abuse. While the language of Section 1.B. states that District board members resigning after serving more than two years has served a full term, Section 1.C. overrules that by saying that any period of absence from the Board allows a Director to serve again. So a Director in the fourth year of the fourth term could resign right before the time to file for election and then file, because the language of Section 1.C. states the absence means the four terms "shall not disqualify" the candidate from serving. This problem could be fixed by clarifying in Section 1.C. that a Director who resigns after two years shall not be considered "absent" from the Board until after the conclusion of the Director's full term. This correction might solve one problem, but it is not enough.

There should be a required two-year absence from the Board, so the advantages of incumbency are given a real time period to diminish to an equal playing field, and the new voices on the Board have a chance to make a difference.

I hope the Board will consider these changes so that the proposed limits will have truly beneficial effects, instead of making meaningful limits harder to obtain.


Brian Schmidt

Brian Schmidt for Santa Clara Valley Water District 2010

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