portrait_jacobsGreetings!

As you may have been aware, earlier this month Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer proposed that several changes be made to the Orange County Charter (click here to read the proposals).

The proposed changes included redistricting the County from six to eight districts; imposing term limits and non-partisan status for constitutional officers; abolishing of the Office of Tax Collector; changing various aspects of the petition amendment process (ballot initiatives); and conducting a special election regarding the proposed measures  via mail ballot.

At Commissioner Brummer's request, his proposal was discussed by the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) this morning.  In follow up to the wide-ranging discussion that occurred, I wanted to share a brief update on some of the ideas that were expressed, as well as my own position on the various components of the proposal.

But first, I'd like to share my sincere thanks with all who participated in or helped make today's meeting possible.  We welcomed a record-setting number of citizens offering public comment - 65 in all - who stepped up and weighed in.  Whether for or against, those who participated helped bring to life an extraordinary display of public engagement and discourse.  For all those who attended or spoke, as well as those watching on Orange TV or who maxed-out our live-stream broadcast, thank you for participating and being a part of your Orange County Government.

Prior to 2008, our Orange County Charter did not provide a mandatory opportunity for regular public comment.  Instead, public comment was allowed only as part of an advertised public hearing or similar legal meeting.  As a result of the County Charter Amendment I proposed on April 7, 2008, known as the Citizen Participation Bill of Rights, we now begin every meeting of the BCC by offering open public comment to anyone who has signed up by the time that public comment starts. As a result of that Charter Amendment and of our unwavering commitment to serving the public in a transparent, professional and ethical manner, Orange County Government has a reputation for open and public access of which we can all be proud.

Proposed Charter Amendment Issues

 

With regard to the measures offered by Commissioner Brummer, I did not support his proposal for several reasons, as outlined below.

First and foremost, I do not support the way this initiative came forward. Rushing these issues to the ballot in less than 60 days does not provide for the type of meaningful public engagement that is crucial to making good decisions and maintaining the public's trust. Furthermore, spending over $1 million of public funds to hold a special election when two county-wide elections are already scheduled later this year runs afoul of the fiscal accountability we owe to our citizens.

Regarding the merits of the individual proposal components, in my opinion, some have merit, some do not, and some have not been properly researched and publicly vetted either by the Charter Review Commission or the Board of County Commissioners.

The following are my initial opinions of the various changes to the County Charter.

Redistricting

I could support placing a measure on the ballot to increase districts from six to eight, on the general election ballot. In keeping with my commitment to meaningful public engagement and involvement, I am satisfied that this issue has been duly vetted (including estimated financial impacts) by the 2012 Charter Review Commission. Though ultimately rejected by the Commission, through the sub-committee process, a significant amount of public discussion was held. Therefore, I believe this to be a legitimate issue that could come before the voters.

However, I am not in support of any proposal that would result in the appointment of new commissioners for the proposed two new districts. I would only support language that would ensure the direct election by the voters of the proposed two new commissioners.

With regard to the $1 million-plus price tag for a special election, when thinking in the long-term, it might be feasible to hold a special election for the election of new district commissioners in 2015 or 2016, if that is a direction in which the BCC and our citizens choose to head.

Partisan Status and Term Limit

Likewise, I believe the issue of current constitutional positions becoming non-partisan, and the imposition of term limits are legitimate issues to bring before the voters during a general election.

Tax Collector

This issue was vetted by the last Charter Review Commission, as well as the Tax Collector Task Force. The impacts have been fully evaluated and the information resulting from both reviews are available to the public. Therefore, I believe that enough information exists for the Board of County Commissioners to place this measure before the voters if they choose to. However, I personally remain unconvinced that there are enough cost savings to merit the elimination of this position. Nonetheless, ongoing operational challenges and the persistent uncertainty regarding the need for a Tax Collector may persuade the Board otherwise.

Ballot Initiatives

I believe that some changes should be made to the petition amendment process to ensure that ballot questions are not misleading and that there is adequate time for a full and public debate.  However, I am opposed to several of the recommended changes because I believe they will stifle the public's ability to engage and participate in their government.

* Regarding the concern raised by Commissioner Brummer that special interests from outside our community have politicized the process by funding several of the most recent ballot initiatives, this may be the case, but regardless, I do not think that rushing to judgment or action is the answer. Instead, I believe this issue might be better addressed through greater transparency.

I do believe that more time is needed for public vetting of ballot initiatives after the signatures are collected and before any resulting election would be held, certainly more than the 45 days currently required.  However, I am not convinced that 120 days is the appropriate amount of time.

I would propose that ballot language be certified, if feasible.Furthermore, for Charter petition amendments, once the petition process has been successfully completed, I would propose the item be placed directly on the ballot rather than coming to Board of County Commissioners. This would prevent the Commission from blocking a future ballot initiative, as occurred with the Sick Leave ballot initiative, and it would safeguard the voters against misleading or confusing ballot language.

Conclusion  
This morning's meeting resulted in a decision by the Board to NOT move forward with a special election. Instead, we will schedule a workshop to be held on April 8th, where the individual proposal issues may be more fully examined, and during which time the Board can decide if they want to move forward with any of the measures. Following that workshop we will schedule a public hearing, during which any interested party may be heard. Once that date is scheduled, I hope you will add it to your calendar, or arrange to join us via Orange TV or our live stream.

I look forward to a continued discussion on the modified proposal. Most of all, I look forward to hearing from you, and to working with you to create the best community in which to live, work and plan.

Sincerely,
Teresa Jacobs
Orange County Mayor

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