The COWnty of San Mateo is required to look at its charter every eight years and consider if changes need to be adopted. As we previously reported, Mayor Dave Burow is the representative, for not only Woodside, but the other cities in the COWnty on the Charter Review Committee. The Committee is addressing the Civil Grand Jury recommendations regarding the possibility of district elections for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and on filling Board vacancies. After public hearings, the Committee will make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for amendments to be submitted to voters.
The Grand Jury Report, issued in June 2009, pointed out that San Mateo County is the only California County to have Countywide elections. This results in under-representation of the Coastal area. It also makes elections more expensive and less competitive. It has been more than 12 years since there was a hotly contested election. The Grand Jury believes that the change would result in more contested elections and more vigorous debate on critical issues. In addition, the Grand Jury has questioned the practice of filling vacant Supervisor seats by appointment.
Concerns have been raised that the Supervisors, who have appointed the most of the Committee members have publicly or privately voiced opposition to a district-based system.
The Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area has threatened a law suit if the current system of at-large elections isn’t changed. They point out that while the county is ethnically diverse the diversity is not reflected on the Board. They believe that the county’s use of an at-large election system dilutes the vote of minority residents. They have a point since in 154 years as a county, only two minority members have ever been elected to the Board.
The Committee faces a deadline of June 30th to provide its recommendations to the Board of Supervisors in order for any possible charter revisions to be placed on the November ballot. It is no surprise that we would like to see the amendments placed on the ballot, vigorously debated and decided by all COWnty voters. It is also no surprise that we believe that contested elections with vigorous debate are essential to a healthy democracy. Mayor Burow has told us that he invites input and feedback from COWs, so let him know your opinion.
The San Mateo County Charter Review Committee will have its next meeting Wednesday, April 21, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Menlo Park City Council Chambers, 701 Laurel St., Menlo Park. Future meetings will be held in South San Francisco and Redwood City. The Committee invites public testimony. To view the agenda and videos of past meetings, please visit www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/charterreviewcommittee A list of the charter review committee’s members can be found here.
As an aside, we applaud the Committee’s commitment to transparency. The Committee posts agendas, minutes, and video, of each meeting on its website. We’re glad that that they understand the importance of videotaping our government in action. We wish our Town Council would understand its importance. Until then, we thank all of you who contribute to enable us to provide Town meetings on Mootube.