By Roz Rogoff
City Council "Fireworks"Uploaded: Apr 26, 2013
Wednesday morning I got an email from Harry Sachs asking what happened at the City Council meeting Tuesday night. Council meeting? Tuesday night? I completely forgot. I missed it.
Harry wanted to know what the Council decided on the election this year. My readers may recall that Councilmembers Dave Hudson and Jim Livingstone proposed moving the election to even years to save money by sharing the costs with other cities and districts. Since San Ramon is the only city in Contra Costa County holding elections in odd years, Dave Hudson estimated that it would cost an additional quarter of a million dollars to continue holding elections in odd years. The City Clerk's estimate is closer to $210K.
The proposal was to put a measure on the ballot this year to go to even years in 2016 by extending all Councilmember's terms by one year. I said I wasn't opposed to that but I thought it would be nice to put two measure on the ballot, one to lengthen terms and one to shorten terms just to give voters a choice.
Hudson and Livingstone didn't want to give voters a choice. They wanted the City Council to make the decision. Jim Livingstone said he was elected to make difficult decisions. Jim and Dave wanted the Council to vote to move their election to 2014 under the assumption that the Mayor would run unopposed. The City Charter limits the Mayor's terms to 8 years or four 2-year terms. If one year is added to one of the Mayor's terms, his term limits could extend to 9 years, which must go to the voters as a Charter Amendment.
Well Mayor Clarkson wasn't for the Council voting to extend its own terms and Councilman Phil O'Loane wasn't either; so the Council was tied 2 to 2 with Councilmember Scott Perkins absent. Perkins would be the tie-breaker when he returned from his business trip.
Thursday night I attended the "Hall of Fame Dinner" to recognize City Lights Volunteers. I left the dinner a little early to get home. This has been a busy week for me. I'm teaching two online classes on Information Systems for University of Phoenix, taking two faculty workshops which are usually easy but these required some work, and I'm taking a Coursera MOOC on Gamification. Whew! No wonder I forgot the Council meeting.
As I was walking from the Community Center to my car I heard a voice behind me. I turned around and it was Scott Perkins. He said I could have 10 to 20 column inches of news from the last City Council meeting. The San Ramon Express doesn't measure in column inches. That's an old fashioned term from printed newspaper days. Presumably I could write as long an article as I want since pixels go on forever, but I try to keep my word count down to a reasonable number.
Perkins said the meeting went over four hours and that there were fireworks over switching to even year elections. Since he was supposed to be the deciding vote, I thought I should watch the video of that item and see how the decision went down.
Clarkson proposed offering two amendments to extend terms, which would save money, or shorten terms which would cost an additional $50K. This was what I proposed, but I'm not against lengthening terms as long as this is given to the voters to approve this year.
Hudson and Livingstone want to skip this year's election and vote to extend their terms to 2014 with a measure on the ballot in 2014 to lengthen the Mayor's term and term limits by one year. An election in 2014 instead of 2013 would cost $50K instead of $200-250K. So the City could save up to $200K, but voters would only be able to vote on extending the Mayor's term and not the Council's.
Staff provided five options for the Council to vote on. Livingstone made a motion to adopt Option 1, which would extend Councilmembers terms by one year and move the next City Council election to 2014. The Council voted 2-3 (Perkins, O'Loane, and Clarkson dissenting) to defeat the motion.
Councilmember O'Loane made a motion to adopt Option 2, which would put a measure on the ballot this year to add one year to the terms of all Councilmembers and the Mayor and add a one-time extra year to the Mayor's term limits. The Council voted 3-2 to approve Option 2. The vote on the Council's annotated agenda is misleading because it shows Clarkson and O'Loane dissenting, but Livingstone and Hudson were the dissenting votes on the option that passed.
Whoever wins the election for City Council this year will serve five years. Whoever wins the election for Mayor this year will serve three years. If the Mayor or Councilmembers run unopposed, there will still be an election on the ballot measure this year. If it passes, the next elections will be in 2016 and 2018. So the City would save $250K on the 2015 election or $50K on the 2014 election. So holding an election this year isn't as costly as Dave Hudson contends.
The decision to hold the election this year will cost more than holding the election to 2014, but it will give voters the opportunity to make the decision. We are not that much in the hole that we can't afford $200K so voters can vote for City Council this year as expected and on the measure to extend terms. This appears to be the best option for saving money in the future while it gives voters the choice. I'm for that!