Anytime a board moves from an appointed to elected board it’s a great thing! Unfortunately it’s a two-step process and cannot happen overnight. Let’s hope the process begins quickly as action must be taken by August to make the November ballot as voters are required to approve this change before new members can be elected.
On Tuesday, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District will hold a discussion of moving the appointed board members to an elected board according to their agenda. The agenda outlined the process.
- Voters must approve the change from an appointed to elected (Nov)
- Voting for new board members would likely occur in June 2013
Most importantly here is a discussion will take place on how to break up the board to an “at large” meaning top 9 people out of the entire District. Or to keep the same break up now and have it by “district” such as 4 from Brentwood, 3 from Oakley and two from the rural parts of the District based on population.
Personally, I’d prefer the Districts be broken up to ensure a fair representation by population. At large will cause way to many potential problems as it could stake the deck for one city.
While I do favor an elected board, it doesn’t come without consequences. The voters may elect board members who are not as strong as the current board. If you have weak board members or a board who cannot make a decision quick enough, it could be a disaster. Just because the board is elected, doesn’t mean the voters will elect the best candidates.
It’s a given the District will immediately lose the knowledge and experience of the current members who became experts on the District. With the budget and shrinking of services occurring, it may cause an even longer recovery time as new board members are brought up to speed. It may also cause the Board to delay action as they go back and revisit old data and suggested solutions that were dismissed long ago as not being valid enough to move forward.
The bottom line, it’s not an easy transition regardless of how much people want it to occur.
As discussion will occur on Tuesday, below is what was provided in the Board Packet.
RECOMMENDATION FOR ACTION
Provide direction to staff on further investigatory work or scheduling consideration of resolution to begin process of changing from an appointed to an elected board.
The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (the “District”) was founded in 2002 through the consolidation of three small fire districts and organized under the Fire Protection District Law of 1987 (Health and Safety Code Sections 13800 through 13970) (the “Law”). The District was initially governed by a board consisting of the County Board of Supervisions pursuant to section 13837(b) of the Law. In October of 2009, the County Board authorized a change in the composition of the board pursuant to section 13837(a) of the Law, which permits the County Board and the City Councils within the District to appoint board members in proportion to the population under each body’s jurisdiction, provided that each body appoints at least one board member. The current board was so appointed and took office in February 2010. This memo provides information on the process for changing the board to one directly elected by the voters.
Section 13848 of the Law provides that an appointed fire protection district board may be changed to an elected board with majority approval of the District voters. The question may be placed on the ballot by resolution of the current board, or in the alternative, upon petition of 25% of the registered voters in the District. If the voters approve of the change, the election for the board members must be held at the next general election. In other words, conversion to an elected board requires a two-step process: first, submission of the question to the voters of converting to an elected board, and if that passes, then second, election of board candidates by the voters at a general election. Both steps must comply with the California Election Code. In order to place the first question on the November, 2012 ballot, the Board would have to act by early August.
Under section 13846 of the Law, the elected board may be either at-large or by division (i.e., districts) proportionate to population; once a method is chosen and a board elected, in order to change to the other method, the question must be put to the voters. Under the circumstances here, the ballot question on whether to move to an elected board should also specify whether the board would be at-large or by division.
If the measure approving an elected board structure passes, the election would be administered with candidate filing and other requirements in accordance the Election Code. Also, if the board were to be elected by division, the District would need to be split into districts of as nearly equal population as feasible. The election would be for the entire nine member board; once the board is elected, new terms of office would be staggered as provided in Section 10505 of the Elections Code. (Specifically, the newly elected directors would meet and divide themselves by lot into two groups of 4 members and 5 members. The 5 members would serve a four-year term and the 4 members would serve a two-year term.) Subsequent elections would always be for four-year terms.
Finally, note that the current size of the Board, nine members, was set by the County and Cities and under section 13845 of the Law cannot be changed without a vote of the electorate. Thus, if the board wishes to propose electing a board consisting of a different number of members, then that change would have to be submitted to the voters as part of the question on changing to an elected board.
The expenses of the elections are not insubstantial. When staff obtained estimates in late 2010, the cost of the first phase of the election was between $95,000 and $200,000, depending on whether the District ran its own mail ballot election or whether the question was put on the County ballot.
If the Board wishes to consider this further in the near future, staff can undertake further research on costs and the scheduling of both phases of the election and report back to you at the next meeting.