Does the Elk Grove City Council Have Courage, or Do Parochial Interests Rule?

January 24, 2015 | Buried in Wednesday night's agenda is an item that will reveal much about our current city council. Voters will...

January 24, 2015 |

Buried in Wednesday night's agenda is an item that will reveal much about our current city council. Voters will find out if the Elk Grove City Council is interested in enhancing democracy or looking out for their parochial interests and those of their contributors.

As part of the Elk Grove City Council's discussion of how future vacancies should be filled, Elk Grove City Clerk Jason Lindgren has prepared a report that includes four options, one of which if selected, would have positive, far-reaching implications for the city. The report was prepared on instructions from the Elk Grove City Council, who ordered it following two acrimonious appointment proceedings in two years.  

During the proceedings to fill 2013, District 4 and 2014, District 1 vacancies, the city council decided to fill the seats by appointment rather than by a vote of the people. In both cases the cost of the conducting a city-wide special election, which was estimated to cost up to $500,000, was used as a justification to appoint a person to fill the respective vacancy.

We emphasize city-wide as Elk Grove currently has a directly elected Mayor and four council members who are elected on a from district basis, but elected by the entire city. Elk Grove's from district is in stark contrast to most similarly-sized and larger cities, like Sacramento, that elect representation by district. 

In a by district system, council members are elected by voters in one particular district, not the entire district. Following this logic, Lindgren's report points to the logical conclusion that to fill a city council vacancy in a special election in a by district system would be proportionally less expensive that our current city-wide system.

Aside from this obvious economic benefit, we believe if the Elk Grove City Council took the necessary steps to amend the city charter, increased the number of seats to six or eight, and elected council member by district, there would be a slew of benefits to the citizens.

The most obvious is that the cost for a candidate to finance a credible campaign for single district basis rather than the entire city will be substantially lower. Through the years, several otherwise well-qualified candidates have not entered council races based on the amount of money needed to run an effective campaign.

Recall in 2006, the last time and only time two incumbents were voted out. Mr.'s Davis and Hume each raised nearly a quarter-of-a-million dollars, most of it from real estate developers and labor unions, and in 2008 Mr. Detrick personally loaned himself $100,000 to challenge and defeat an unpopular incumbent, Mike Leary. 

This year, the top two finishers in the four-way race for the District 4 seat, Nancy Chaires and Steve Ly, each raised close to $100,000. It is no coincidence that the other two District 4 candidates, Daniel Jimenez, and Nayyar Sarfaraz, who finished well behind Ly and Chaires, had only a few thousand dollars each to wage their campaigns.   

In addition, consider the number of well-qualified candidates who sought appointments, particularly for the District 4 vacancy. There are scores, if not hundreds of well-qualified citizens in our community who could immediately step in and serve our city admirably, if not better, than a few of our current members. 

What is keeping these people from running for office? The pragmatic realization that to have any chance to win a city-wide race, you need to line up lots of contributors and get them to give you lots of money. .

Moreover, to add a counterpoint to this argument, consider that in 2012 and 2014 city council elections, two incumbents in each cycle ran unopposed. With all due respect to Mr.'s Cooper, Davis, Detrick, and Hume, you were unopposed not because you are doing such a spectacular job either. 

Rather the impediment keeping would-be candidates from challenging these four incumbents is the sheer amount of money needed to enter the race. In an economic environment following the Great Recession, very few of us have the resources to self-finance to the tune of $100,00, and the incumbents through their support of continued real estate development have cornered the deep-pocketed contributors needed to finance a viable city-wide campaign.

We could post a laundry list of reasons a by district system is superior to our current from district system. Suffice it to say that in a by district system there will be lower economic barriers for candidates to enter a race resulting in more candidates for voter. 

The more participation from voters and candidates is always better for a representative democracy. Otherwise, Elk Grove runs the risk of becoming a plutocracy, which it might well already have become. (Alea iacta est - The die has been cast. Or has it?)

Undoubtedly, our city council members will balk at this proposal. The most obvious argument we have heard in the past and will probably hear this Wednesday night, if they even have the courage to even bring it up, will be ironically that by district representation leads to officials pursuing the parochial interests of their constituents. This is a time-tested argument that has traditionally been used to block minorities from a seat at the table while comforting the establishment.

Council members will also point to the 2010 defeat of Elk Grove Measure N which would have expanded the number of city council seats to seven. Given the increased awareness the electorate has of the influence big money has in politics in the post Citizen United world, and their increased belief that governments represent corporations more than people, we think it would win if put up for a vote of the people. 

If you want an example, just look north to Sacramento's Measure L. Even though Mayor Kevin Johnson is popular, his attempt to wrest more control was handily defeated.  

In the end, we are certain our council will maintain the status quo. Why should they bite the hands that feeds them? 

They have entrenched themselves in their positions with generous donations from RECALL contributors - real estate, construction, and local labor - who have priced the entry fee into the game at $100,000. Newly elected Council Member Ly knows this, so it was really no surprise he started tapping into the RECALL largess by holding a major campaign event about six weeks after taking his oath of office. Ly's talk about representing people at city hall makes for a good campaign soundbite, but he quickly showed where his loyalties lie. 

It will also be interesting to see this in play out in the next two years as recently appointed Council Member Darren Suen gears up for his presumed 2016 campaign. Most of the usual suspects in the RECALL cabal we suspect will be found on his Form 460.     

So while we would be head-over-heels to see a change to by district representation, we suspect no one on this council has the moral and political courage to expand the possibilities of new and different voice representing the electorate. Now that is what we call representing the parochial interests of themselves and their contributors!

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Warren Buffett said...

Seems to me, the soundbite benefits of asking for the staff report has been achieved. Now that the elections are over, Poli Sci 101 says that when you want an issue to go away, you ask for a committee to be formed to study it further, or simply table it because of other pressing matters (e.g. aquatic center, soccer fields, SOI, infrastructure, etc.).

Too bad online betting is prohibited! :)

Anonymous said...

All Elk Grove voters are all DEAD! Let them die in peace. DEMOCRACY is DEAD in ELK GROVE.

If Elk Grove voters cared just a bit, they could STILL force a special election for Darin Suen's position. Read the fine print!

On another note, force a special election for the vacant school board position also. You will get 2 for 1 special from the County of Voter Reg. office.

Lynn said...

I met a resident today who says our city does not need more houses. I informed her I have said it at council....and they need to hear from YOU because they think I just speak for myself.
Sadly, our current political situation; "big money does win and anyone with the big money does not have to study or know the issues". This is sad.
I doubt the 5 MEN will risk changing a system by which they profit. The intoxication of power has clouded their judgement. The intoxication of power; a powerful drug addiction....and this is why our elected leaders stay to retire from office as it is a profitable career. To serve would mean after a term or two the service would be finished...We need dedicated servants.
Ask how many of these elected officials have paid their own filing fees? How many of them have spent their own monies campaigning and not through a loan to a campaign which the reimbursement will come from outside city sources.
To take Democracy back would mean the involvement and participation of all. Will it happen here in our city? I WILL REMAIN FOREVER HOPEFUL.

Take the risk; attend a city council meeting!

Anonymous said...

Did I miss something? In the sixth paragraph you mentioned amending the city charter. When did we become a charter city? I sure hope not!

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