Actually most of the fireworks, if it can be called that and not a rant, came from Councilmember Jim Livingstone. If there were fireworks they appeared mostly in his face, which turned bright red as he grew angrier and angrier.
Jim often says his most important concern on the Council is public safety. The Police Department reported a slight increase in crime last year, and Jim was angry because the cost of holding elections in odd years could pay for another police officer. So I understand why Jim was so rankled by past attempts at going to even year elections.
But Jim made some claims in his tirade that I feel need to be answered. He basically called San Ramon voters stupid for not voting to go to even years when we had the chance, twice.
"If I recall, the people turned down even year elections. The people were wrong. They don't get it!" Jim believes Councilmembers should make the decision. "Everybody weigh in on this, that's garbage. . . . If we'd done this five or ten years ago, we'd be a million dollars richer today," he calculated.
Nope, not quite. The first time this was voted on was a little more than ten years ago. In 2002 the Gang of Three put Measure H on the ballot, which would go to even years by lengthening the terms of all Councilmembers.
The Gang of Three consisted of Nancy Tatarka, Donna Dickey, and Jerry Cambra. I was very happy to see Nancy Tatarka looking well, energetic, and happy recently. The City Council dais was not a happy place eleven years ago.
Dave Hudson should remember this. He was on the City Council at that time and meetings ran long into the night in part stoked by bickering between Councilmember Hudson and Councilmember Donna Dickey. Neither one was willing to give the other one the last word.
When Measure H was put on the ballot by Tatarka, Dickey, and Cambra, Vice-Mayor Wilson and Councilmember Hudson opposed it. A large group of past city leaders mobilized to fight Measure H to prevent the Gang of Three from extending their terms.
Jim Livingstone now believes the City could have saved up to $1M from past elections if we changed to even years ten years ago. So according to Jim we would be a million dollars richer if Measure H had passed. Not likely! If the Gang was still in office in 2004 they would have blown that million along with the $1.5M they already spent on plans for a Civic Center that would cost up to $200M to build and $1-2M a year to operate. So that phantom million dollars would probably not be in the City's coffers now.
The next measure to go to even year elections was Measure Q, which was put on the ballot by the City Council in 2008. Why didn't that pass? Heck I don't know. It might have been the circuitous wording that confused almost everyone.
"Shall the following be added to Article III of the City of San Ramon Charter: Notwithstanding any of the above, if the general municipal election date is changed to the date of the statewide general election, the unexpired term of an incumbent Mayor shall be extended by one year or reduced by one year? If the term is extended, that individual may serve a total of nine years as Mayor."
Now tell me what that means. Well I knew what it meant because Dave Hudson said he wouldn't even consider shortening terms. If Measure Q passed, Hudson, Wilson, Livingstone, Perkins, and Rowley intended to lengthen the Mayor's term and vote to extend their own terms to go to even years in 2010.
I wasn't so much against Measure Q as I was putting it on the ballot in 2008. I argued it should go on the ballot for the regular election in 2009 when it would not cost an additional $50K. So not only did Measure Q not save money, it cost money we didn't need to spend.
I opposed Measure Q in 2008 and wrote the opposition to it in the ballot pamphlet. Former Mayor Curt Kinney and his wife Jeanne also signed it, so my name may not have been the influencing factor. The measure lost by a mere 169 votes, but 12,431 voters voted No.
Measure P was also on the ballot in 2008. This would have changed the Charter to enable the City Council to set the Mayor's salary. That one lost too.
Maybe voters didn't like Measure P and voted No on both P and Q. Or maybe they didn't like the idea of term extensions. Or maybe they really wanted to keep City elections in odd years. Voters in San Ramon like being able to vote in a calm atmosphere, without all the hoopla of State and National elections. Voters who vote in odd years are motivated to know what's going on and who's who on the City Council. City elections are an afterthought in even year elections, competing for attention with the elections for Governor or President.
What about saving $250K every other year year by not holding odd year elections for ten years? Well 2003 was the year of the recall of Governor Gray Davis and election of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even though that was held in October, a month before the City's election, some of the costs were offset by mailing literature at the same time.
In 2005 there were eight state-wide ballot measures that offset some of the cost of the City's odd year election. In 2007 we had no election because the Mayor and two Councilmembers, Scott Perkins and Carol Rowley, all ran unopposed.
We cannot always predict what will happen in an election year. We can have an odd year election with no opposition like 2007, and skate by with no cost at all. We can have an odd year election like 2005, with a host of initiatives to share the costs, or the really wild and wacky 2003 with the recall election in October and our odd year election a month later.
Even if the cost is only $40-$50K to put a measure on the ballot in even years, it's still a cost. And if there's no election because nobody runs in the odd years, it's still a savings.
So No, Jim, we wouldn't have saved a million dollars by now if Measure H passed in 2002. Maybe we would have saved $500K if Measure Q passed in 2008, but that's a big "MAYBE." Some of those savings might have gone to the increase in the Mayor's salary if Measure P had passed.
Let's give the voters one more try. If it is turned down again, it means voters want to keep elections in odd years even if it costs more. Jim's saying, "The people out there should be concerned about $250,000. To me it's a no brainer!" sounds a little arrogant to me.
Sometimes cost isn't the only factor. Our City's founders changed the elections from even years to odd years to avoid the "noise" of State and National elections. So maybe those 12,431 voters who rejected Measure Q do "get it." Maybe they like the way our elections stand out in odd years and want to keep them that way.
That was in 2008 before the brunt of the recession hit. We know there's a budget crunch now, and as I said at the Budget meeting, now is the time to change. There will always be a core of voters who prefer odd years, but I still believe giving voters the choice is the right thing to do.