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Ask the Expert

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Our View: Term limit extensions deserve talks

Posted: July 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 28, 2012 5:47 p.m.
 

Los Angeles County supervisors caused themselves some unnecessary problems last week when they considered a motion by Supervisor Michael Antonovich to place a measure on the November ballot that would ask voters to extend term limits for themselves and their successors.

The idea was overshadowed by the way it was presented. That’s unfortunate because we believe the idea warrants discussion.

Antonovich’s motion, which was postponed Tuesday after criticism from fellow Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, will come back before the board this week, giving the board and its constituents some time to consider the ramifications of the proposal.

Antonovich’s proposal, if passed and approved by voters, would undo a law approved by voters a decade ago limiting supervisors to three four-year terms.

Under that law, four of the five sitting supervisors would be barred from running for re-election once their current terms expire. Antonovich’s proposal — again, if approved by the voters — would extend the term limits by eight years, allowing the current supervisors to stay in their positions longer, assuming they are re-elected.

Yaroslavsky said last week that the proposal, as written, was misleading. The proposal says that it would “limit” any supervisor to five consecutive terms starting with December 2002. Yaroslavsky says that implies the measure would impose term limits for the first time, which of course isn’t true. It would be an extension of term limits.

The way Antonovich’s measure was brought before the board has also been criticized. Most items are put on the agenda three full business days prior to the regular Tuesday Board of Supervisors meeting. This item was placed on an addendum and available just one full business day before the meeting.

Of course, putting the item on the agenda this way raised suspicions. Was this just a sneaky, self-serving move by Antonovich and possibly others to gain more time in office? Antonovich could end up spending 44 years on the board if re-elected under this proposal.

These circumstances raise unnecessary suspicions cloud the issue. Antonovich says the current board is in the best position to steer the county through tough economic times.

We agree that the current Board of Supervisors is a productive and thoughtful body that has kept the county’s fiscal ship steadier than many other municipalities in California, which has three cities that have declared bankruptcy so far.

Losing the current board’s expertise could cause instability in the nation’s most populous county.

The Board of Supervisors governs a wide area of nearly 10 million people with more and bigger problems than most municipalities face. It takes some time for each supervisor to learn the needs of his or her district.

Those supporting tighter term limits believe that a very long tenure in any office leads to entrenchment and stagnation, even though voters are welcome to turn out any elected official at the ballot box if they feel they have become ineffective.

With their approval of Proposition 28 in June, allowing lawmakers to spend more time in each house of the Legislature, California voters have shown they may be easing their stance on term limits, entertaining the idea that our state, counties and cities need more experienced officials at the helm.

But how many years in office are too many?

This is what needs to be discussed. We hope the supervisors’ decision to postpone action on the term limits proposal has left some time for thoughtful debate.

The entire experience is a reminder to elected officials about the importance of transparency, including the appearance of transparency, when going about the people’s business.

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