Dispatches from the Eccentric Frontier - Hold your nose and vote on Tuesday, November 8, 2011
13:56 ※ Hold your nose and vote on Tuesday, November 8, 2011As usual, I’ve written up my research notes for the coming election so you can all crib from my work. I’ve given my conclusions, and invite everyone to come to their own. Even if we disagree on everything, I'm still happy if this collection of links saved you a headache.
This gets a little complicated.
The first thing to note here is that “mayor” is not an executive job in Sunnyvale. Sunnyvale is structured more like a corporation, with the City Council functioning as a board of directors who elect a chairman— the Mayor— for a two-year term, and the executive role served by the City Manager, who is hired by the Council. Jim Griffith describes some of the City Manager’s work:
For virtually any major Sunnyvale endeavor you’ve seen in the past several years, it’s been driven by the City Manager from the beginning (sometimes the Economic Developer, but always with the CM in the room). He was responsible for Nokia moving into the downtown, and Rambus, Google, Microsoft, and HP moving into Moffett Park. He was responsible for Foothill-DeAnza coming in to Onizuka. He did Sunnyvale Works!. And so on. And in all of these cases, the City Council wasn’t even read in on the specifics until it was almost a done deal. We’re the last to know, we’re not the driving force, and that’s why we pay the City Manager more money than the seven of us combined. That’s just the way it works in cities where a Council is a bunch of part-time people trained in other jobs.
The job of Mayor is mostly ceremonial, but it still keeps them quite busy; Melinda Hamilton says it’s pretty much a full-time job. (While the City Council only meets one night per week, the other duties make Councilmember at least a half-time job.) Councilcritters have day jobs, and usually burn through most of their PTO just meeting their duties. Mayor Hamilton (who is looking forward to relaxing after her term is up) thinks a four-year mayor job would likely attract a different kind of candidate: a retiree who can afford the time commitment, or a career politician using it as a stepping stone to higher office.
Sunnyvale deals with neighboring cities and large-scale organizations, such as the County Board of Supervisors, the Valley Transportation Authority board, the League of California Cities, and the National League of Cities. Representing us with them is usually apportioned amongst the various councilcritters, who can maintain relationships throughout their term, no matter how the Mayor hat moves around. A stronger Mayor could serve as an advocate in these venues. While all councilcritters are elected by the entire city, a Mayor who is directly elected could be seen as a stronger proxy for the city, and with a four-year term would have more opportunities to develop ties with neighboring cities. Since Measure A doesn’t make Mayor a full-time job, though, it would be challenging to find the time for the advocacy work.
All councilcritters in Sunnyvale need the core skill set of being able to cooperate with each other; if the Mayor takes on this advocacy role, they will need an additional skill set for advocating in a potentially adversarial environment, and will need particular skill to avoid interfering with the City Manager’s work if both of them are in the room on a particular issue. Citizens are not normally asked to consider both skill sets when voting for City Council, so under Measure A that would be a new criterion for voters to judge.
Note that the Charter only specifies that the Mayor is the presiding officer of the Council; all other duties and powers are up to the Council, and, under Measure A, the first time we get a Mayor that sufficiently offends enough councilcritters, they’re likely to reduce the Mayor’s job to presiding and ribbon-cutting, which would persist thereafter until someone thought they could get elected as Mayor and persuade the rest of the Council to restore the job. This is much less likely under the current system, since the Mayor needs majority support just to take the job in the first place.
From 1991–2007, the title simply rotated amongst the councilcritters in a predictable way, so everybody got to list “mayor” on their résumé. In 2007, Measure H made it a two-year term, with the Mayor chosen by the Council, just as board members in a corporation often choose the chairman.
Measure A will make the position of Mayor directly elected by the voters, and under a separate term limit, so someone could serve 8 years on the Council and then 8 years as Mayor, potentially serving sixteen consecutive years in a twenty year period. (Currently, they would need to serve 8 years on the Council, then take 4 years off, then serve another 8 years if they wanted to rack up 16 years out of 20.) This means that a competent civil servant could spend more time providing the city with the benefit of their experience, and a bought one could spend more time clinging to power.
Since the Mayor is a councilcritter, Measure A makes Seat 1 into the Mayor’s seat. If someone currently serving in Seat 4–7 makes a run for Mayor and wins, that means they abandon their seat halfway through their term and take up Seat 1, instantly triggering a special election to fill their seat, at a cost of roughly $400,000. Since the only way for that to happen is for someone with the political savvy to become a councilmember to willingly expose themselves to accusations of wasting that much money, we would only likely see it if someone unqualified were running for Mayor and a sitting Councilmember decided to run against them— a distinct possibility, but not a major boondoggle.
I had an interesting conversation with Councilmember (and former Vice Mayor) Chris Moylan, who told me about an impressive amount of behind-the-scenes leverage exerted when the Council vote for Mayor was approaching, leading to some votes being calculated for longer-term political advantage rather than selecting the person who would be the most effective mayor. Measure A would mean that attempts to sway the election would be in the form of special interest money going after the electorate, rather than whatever could be exerted on four councilcritters who have already made it through the gauntlet of a recent Council election. Wherever there’s an election, you’ll get politics, but Measure A can choose where the politicking will occur.
|Supported by||Opposed by|
Choose Your Mayor
San Jose Mercury
Chris Moylan, City Councilmember (and former Vice Mayor)
No on A
Melinda Hamilton, Mayor
Jim Griffith, Vice Mayor
Reasons to vote for Measure A, if you believe them:
Reasons to vote against Measure A, if you believe them:
This is a difficult decision, since people I respect are on both sides of it. I’m not convinced either way about whether a directly elected mayor would be a good idea. I’m voting no because this feels to my software-engineering sensibilities like code that hasn’t been through a design review; I don’t think Measure A is a solid implementation of a directly elected mayor, and I would rather that the legal code be debugged before we put it into production. I would welcome a more thorough study that re-examines the role of the Mayor were we to switch to direct election.
I’d like to thank Mayor Melinda Hamilton, Vice Mayor Jim Griffith, and Councilmember Chris Moylan for taking the time to give me their perspectives on the issue.
|Supported by||Opposed by|
Jim Griffith, Vice Mayor
Santa Clara County Democratic Party
As of this writing, the Santa Clara County Republican Party of Silicon Valley has not endorsed anyone, though they were willing to walk precincts for Jim Davis. There are no published endorsements that I can find on the DAWN, PSOA, BAYMEC, or SunPAC web sites.
|Current Mood: tired|
|Tags: election research ⁎, hold your nose and vote ⁎|
I attended last night's debate, but didn't see you there.
Chang: Talked a lot about planning issues, the one subject he can discuss without sounding like a completely empty bag of wind. Gave me a more positive impression.
Meyering: Crafted his pre-set sound bites around any question he was asked. When asked if Sv should provide more housing because of increased local tech hiring, he said that Google's new workers are Google's problem, not Sv's problem. Bzzz.
Hoffman: When asked why he's never voted in Council elections, he said that until recently he'd never known anything about any contentious civic issues. Bzzz. Neither did I, when I moved here four years ago and found a Council election going on under my nose; that's why I took the trouble to find out.
Walker: When Meyering said there were no shuttle buses serving the industrial district, Walker said there were. Hard to get info (the links from the Moffett Park Business Assn, to which Walker'd directed us, are broken, not a good sign), but apparently Walker is right.
Davis: When asked about having an ex-cop voting on police salaries, Davis said there'd be no conflict of interest for him, because he has integrity. Bzzz. So judges who recuse themselves from cases; they don't have integrity?
Fowler: If you hear those "does not play well with others" issues from the Mercury News, I wouldn't trust their opinion with a ten-foot beanstalk.
Martin-Milius: Continues to talk as if she thinks all our problems will be solved if we just smile harder. If elected, she'll be on the fast track to be chosen mayor for sure.
Pan: Could you repeat the question, please? I'll have to study that issue. (repeat as needed) Bzzz. One surprisingly tough position, though: Openly threatened to vote to kick Pat Meyering off the Council if they're both elected and he doesn't behave.
Measure A: I'm voting No because the arguments in favor are stupider than the arguments against. The Merc's argument in favor is the stupidest yet.
I had formed sufficient opinions at the previous debate and went off to Zen meditation instead. Thanks for the update!
I have heard about Fowler’s issues from more than the Merc.
He was very gallant towards his opponents last night. Even fetched them cups of water. Spoke well of them in the question intended to be read as "trash-talk your opponents, please."
Chang and Meyering, on the other hand, plunged in with gusto. Meyering: "My opponent received $x,000 in contributions from the downtown developer." Chang: "There is no downtown developer; he quit. Besides, I only received $300." Meyering: "Why would a developer contribute $300 to a candidate 400 miles away unless they thought they could influence his vote?"
Thanks, as always, for putting this together.
Measure A is a tough one to evaluate. On the one hand, I am inclined to support it on the philosophical belief that direct election of key political officials is better than letting a committee choose amongst themselves. On the other hand, I am inclined to vote against it because, as you said in so many words, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's not clear that anything is wrong with the existing mayoral system, and it's not clear that the proposed change is superior. I routinely vote NO on most ballot initiatives for that reason and I may well do so on this one, too.
It is not clear to me that there aren’t problems that could be solved by a directly elected mayor, but I don’t think Measure A received the amount of thought that would be required in order to fix those (potential) problems.
I find the argument that "We don't get to elect our mayors" disingenuous. Most non-large cities don't directly elect their mayors; if this were a shocking violation of democracy, it'd have come up more before now. Also: they're all council members, and we do elect them. The job of mayor here is not sufficiently different from that of other council members to make that any more of a legitimate complaint than which council members are chosen for which intergovernmental committees.
Looks like you need to log in to the Campaign Statement Public Portal to get the public filings to work, possibly via netfile.com or City of Sunnyvale: Elections.