Avoid the sideshow

9-22-14

Michael Raffety

After a month and a half break the El Dorado County Charter Committee will meet tonight, Sept. 22. The committee has made some valuable adjustments to the charter that were accepted by the Board of Supervisors for inclusion in the ballot.

Changes included eliminating a section that had become obsolete, having been superseded by law. The group also changed the references to the Board of Supervisors, such as calling the board chairman “chairperson.”

The most significant adjustment was to change from 120 days to 180 days when an election must be scheduled to fill an empty seat on the Board of Supervisors. This increases the odds of such an election coinciding with a regularly scheduled election instead of paying for a separate special election at a cost of $80,000-$100,000.

Still on the agenda is a possible remake of the preamble and a proposal to change how grand jurors are selected.

Also, likely to make a return appearance is District 1 appointee Rachel Michelin and her monomaniacal pursuit of term limits for elected department heads.

The fact that it is unconstitutional does not deflect her one iota. At the last meeting in August she promised to get a law passed to allow term limits for elected department heads. Her plan was to get it on the local ballot on the theory that some friend of hers in the state Legislature might propose such a bill and it might pass despite lobbying by statewide organizations of elected officials from sheriffs to assessors and others and that the governor might sign it and that the voters might approve it in some future state ballot.

That’s a lot of dang ifs.

The bottom line is she wants to the Charter Committee to ask the current Board of Supervisors to commit a future Board of Supervisors to put an illegal measure on the ballot two years from now.

In legal terms this violates the ab ante principle. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, “Thus a legislature (the board of supervisors) cannot agree ab ante (in advance) to any modification or amendment to a law which a third party may make.”

This whole scheme violates the U.S. Constitution in two ways.

  1. This violates Section 9, No. 3 of the U.S. Constitution: “No bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed.”
  2. It violates the First Amendment that says, “Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech.”

These elements apply to the individual states as well.

To attempt to limit terms of office that are protected by the state constitution on the guess that some amendment to the state constitution might be passed in the future is a bill of attainder against all elected department heads in this county. If such a crazy quest should even make it on the ballot it would act as a prior restraint on the rights of any qualified person who might seek to run for one of the seven elected department heads.

Except for the recorder-clerk, all positions have specific qualifications listed in detail in the recorder-clerk’s Election Handbook. All qualifications have been adopted by county ordinance and reflect state law. All office qualifications are extensively detailed, some more than others. These are not officers who make laws like the Board of Supervisors. They are specialists in their field.

To even talk about putting this on the ballot would cause any qualified candidate to be restrained from filing for election. Who would choose a career with General Electric if they were told they could only work there 12 years and they would have to go look for another job in their late 40s or early 50s? Why would anyone choose to be a sheriff or an assessor or auditor if they couldn’t seek reelection after two or three terms? The best county elected department heads are those who came from outside of county government. Even those who have worked for this county before their election have gathered extensive experience outside of government. They volunteered to seek election. They didn’t volunteer to be turned out at midlife without the pension, longevity pay that all other county employees receive and pay comparable to what appointed managers receive.

The Charter Committee should avoid this one-person sideshow vendetta against elected department heads. The voters have already spoken. Stop the weird ballot contortions.

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