Imposing Term Limits on County Supervisors
Friday, July 17, 2009
The San Diego County Supervisors have held their offices for more than a decade, and now a county employees union is circulating a petition to impose term limits on the elected officials. What are the arguments for and against imposing term limits on the board of supervisors?
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
GLORIA PENNER (Host): All right, it was bound to happen sometime. Some civic minded or disgruntled individual or group, dismayed that all five San Diego County Supervisors have been in office for a grand total of more than 70 years, with two of them starting their fifth four-year terms in office that somebody would want to take some action, and it happened this week. So, JW, tell us about the woman who wants new blood on the county board.
JW AUGUST (Managing Editor, 10News): Well, she's administrative clerk at the sheriff's department and she said, by golly, I'm tired of these – the Dukes and the Dukoms (sp) or whatever they call women Dukes…
JOHN WARREN (Editor/Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): Duchesses. Duchesses.
AUGUST: …Duchesses running this place forever and ever and it's time for a change and, by golly, let's have term limits. And the union, the employees union at the County, ten thousand people strong, the Service Employees International, is going to support this with money, with whatever it takes to get it on the ballot to force a term – you know, to have term limits become the rule at the County Board of Supes.
PENNER: So that's assuming that term limits really does the job, you know, that term limits is a good thing.
AUGUST: Ohh, yeah.
PENNER: Yeah, so let me turn to you on this, Michael. I mean, critics are saying, hey, if you think term limits are so great, take a look at what's going on in Sacramento where they do have term limits.
MICHAEL SMOLENS (Political Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): Well, that is – I think part of the problem, as one of the callers and we discussed earlier, the safe districts all over the place is another one, and just the overall, you know, revenue and spending system locked in. There's the two sides of term limits, that, one, that the real criticism is that people aren't there long enough to get the experience, to have the knowledge as we've had in the past. Then again, we had some of these barons of the legislature that were there for way too long. One of the benefits it's done is, it has, you know, caused turnover. There's more women and minorities in the legislature. I think you would've seen that anyway even without term limits in the natural progression of, you know, the political dynamics and demographics. One of the things, specifically, though about the County Board of Supervisors, I mean, it's interesting, almost within a day that this surfaced, you know, we're finding out that there's potentially three very competitive races coming up.
SMOLENS: Ron Roberts, who's been there for a long time, former City Councilman, may be running against Shelia Jackson, the San Diego School Board president, no slouch. Not an also-ran. Donna Fry may jump into that race because she's facing term limits at the city council. Bill Horn may face a Vista city councilman, Steve Gronke, if I'm pronouncing it right, and a contractor, and then Pam Slater-Price will be facing Steve Danon, who's run before and is a known entity in politics in the local town, Brian Bilbray's chief of staff. So what I'm just saying is that there's – You know, part of the problem is also that, you know, far be it for me to suggest that the County Board of Supervisors has done a good job but there's not the hue and cry of problems there as there has been at the City of San Diego and so forth. You know, let's face it, incumbents are very strong and there needs to be a critical mass of public concern for them to be – for incumbents to lose in any level of government. That hasn't really happened yet but I do find it interesting that we've got the potential for, surprisingly, some really interesting and fun races if some – if all these people jump in.
PENNER: Okay, our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. I wonder if you know who your county supervisor is. They do kind of fly under the radar a little bit, don't they, John? I mean, you don't hear a great deal about the county supervisors. What you do hear is that they have each $2.7 million—$2.7 million, it's grown—each of them, in discretionary funds which they can offer as grants to just about any entity that they care to. John, this is a very cushy kind of thing. I mean, it buys – it's got to buy them some political clout.
WARREN: Yeah, it's what government is really all about. You know, once a year, people march down there, they step before them for three minutes. They tell them about their programs and they wait to be funded. You know, I mean, government is supposed to serve folks, so that works. But what we have here is a issue where you have term limits for the City of San Diego, you have people who are affected by those folks who have been there, and I think it's very significant that the employees have said we want a change. And there's nothing wrong with term limits for the supervisors. I don't think the people in the city understand the reach and control of the board of supervisors because they don't understand the magnitude of San Diego County itself.
PENNER: Three million people strong.
WARREN: And it's spread out, one of the biggest counties in the state, and most people never get outside the city so they don't understand the rest of it.
PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Do you feel that the system needs to be changed so that new blood can be welcomed onto the board of supervisors? What is the value of new blood? Our number is 1-888-895-KPBS. JW, what is the value of new blood?
AUGUST: It's always good to have new blood if the new blood knows what it's doing. But every time I think about term limits, I think of the poster child: Juan Vargas, who spent his first term up in Sacramento learning the game and his second term trying to land a job in the insurance industry. That's one of the problems with term limits. The – I think it comes down to the people, to tell you the truth. The people that hold the jobs, I mean, you could have term limits and still have bums in there. You can allow them to run forever and have good people doing the job and they do a commendable job, or they can be subject to corruption. The one thing – there's also, of course, in every story like this, there are other things going on. The unions are very upset about the outsourcing and the managed – what do you call it, managed competition going on at the County. The City's been trying to do that. The union does not like that. That takes away union jobs, jobs in the county. And so that's their – that's one of their other motives. And, if I was a union person and working for the County, I wouldn't like it either.
PENNER: Okay, well, you know, this has been tried before, getting it on the ballot, term limits for the county supervisors. It has not made it on the ballot. What's it going to take, John, to have this finally come to a vote of the people?
WARREN: Money. Money. Money. Some money…
PENNER: Well, you've got a union here, don't they have some…
WARREN: Yeah, and you have a union that has money. But I think you also have a situation now where people will be looking very closely, with what's happening in Sacramento, with what's that going to do to services in terms of what the County does. And when people see, and the County is going to be on the firing line because the County is over Health & Human Services. That agency controls home care, healthcare, all the social service programs. The cutbacks are going to come based on what this Assembly is doing and that is going to make these people more vulnerable to attack this time than ever before.
PENNER: All right…
WARREN: So that's what's going to make the difference.
PENNER: I'm sorry, John, I didn't realize…
WARREN: That's all right.
PENNER: …I was stepping on your line.
WARREN: That's all right.
PENNER: But let's hear now from Justin in Spring Valley. Justin, we are going to get you right under the wire. Please go ahead.
JUSTIN (Caller, Spring Valley): Hi. I just wanted to point out that last week on the Editors Roundtable there was a discussion about the hepatitis C screening. And it was pointed out that Diane Jacobs (sic) was basically not willing to hear public opinion about health matters in the county, and I think that sort of opinion needs to be limited as far as, you know, get them off the council and get somebody else on there who is willing to listen to the people.
PENNER: Well, JW?
AUGUST: Well, it's not a council, it's a board of supervisors, and that's what John was talking about. There is still a great deal of confusion, how both entities work and how the whole system. But as to his concern, absolutely. If they're – if the politicians are not responsive, get them out.
PENNER: Yes, Michael Smolens.
SMOLENS: Well, let's not forget, term limits isn't going to get somebody in that you necessarily like. In Diane Jacob's district, you're probably going to get somebody that has a lot of the same philosophical points of view.
SMOLENS: It's east county, it's conservative. So, you know, that's – in philosophic aspects, it does bring in new blood but it doesn't guarantee a philosophic change by any stretch because the districts are still the same in terms of their political breakdown.
WARREN: Well, I think we have to look at term limits and see what it's doing in Sacramento as well. Here, the term is for four years and it's been for four years for the city council in San Diego. And so the term limits then give people more of an opportunity as opposed to a two-year scenario in the Assembly where, by the time they learn, it's time to leave. So I think that there'll be more support for term limits this term around – this time around in terms of the board since we're already living under it with the City which is a charter city.
AUGUST: Well, the irony here is by the time – if term limits come in, by the time most of the people on the board now will want to retire anyway.
PENNER: Is that true?
AUGUST: Oh, I think so, yeah. They're in – some in their late sixties, mid-sixties. They may want to retire.
WARREN: Roberts is not talking about leaving.
AUGUST: No, not now. I'm not going to say that again.
PENNER: Well, you're – you're talking about another ten or fifteen years, right, Michael?
AUGUST: It takes a while, yeah.
PENNER: Okay. Michael, last comment.
SMOLENS: Well, you know, I – Before term limits in Sacramento, I saw some – some people that were there very long into their eighties, so you never know.
PENNER: Okay, and John Warren, your final comment on this.
WARREN: I think that it's still going to be affected by the level of services people receive and that's going to determine who gets on this wagon.
PENNER: John, it's a cushy job, $143,000.00 a year, a $1,000.00 monthly car allowance. I mean, who wouldn't want this job?
WARREN: Oh, people will want the job but it's a question of the public responding.
PENNER: Okay, thank you very much. Gentlemen, thank you. JW August of KGTV-10, from San Diego Voice & Viewpoint, John Warren, from San Diego Union-Tribune Michael Smolens. I want to thank our listeners and our callers. I'm Gloria Penner and we'll – you'll hear us again next week on Editors Roundtable.
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