County Governance Examined by Joint Senate Committee Hearing
November 3, 2016
County governance was the topic of a joint hearing of the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee and the Senate Governance and Finance Committee last week. Specifically, the Committee discussed whether large population counties should have additional supervisorial districts and also if counties should have an elected CAO/CEO position, with the ultimate goal of improving representation and services for constituents.
The local government panelist, including former San Diego County CAO Walt Ekard on behalf of CSAC, did a commendable job presenting facts and concerns as well as responding to questions or claims made by the Senators and other panelists as they advocated for maintaining charter county authority and the general principle of local control.
The hearing was called following the introduction of Senate Constitutional Amendment 8 (Mendoza), which would have required counties with more than 3 million people on or after the 2020 census to increase their board size by two, four, or more supervisors. SCA 8 also locked in spending at the 2020 level (with minor adjustments for inflation) and sought statewide voter approval to create these changes. The bill would have applied to charter and general law counties alike. CSAC successfully opposed this measure due to unfunded mandates and the override of a county authority to address local governance issues. SCA 8 failed to pass out the Senate twice, first in 2015 and again in 2016. The goal of the informational hearing was to further vet many of the issues raised during the Senate’s review of SCA 8, which included the possible role of an elected CEO/CAO in counties.
The informational hearing lasted nearly four hours with Chairs Ben Allen (Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee) and Bob Hertzberg (Governance and Finance Committee), Senators Joel Anderson, Ricardo Lara, Carol Liu, Tony Mendoza and Pro Tem Kevin De Leon in attendance. While there was no formal vote, the Senators and panelists highlighted the following key points that may be raised by the Legislature in the 2017-18 session and beyond.
Local Vote over Statewide Vote: An area of consensus acknowledged by Chair Allen was that any proposal for changes in governance should be voted on by the local jurisdiction where changes may be made. A statewide vote was not appropriate.
Larger Boards Need Elected CEOs: Advocates of the elected CEO position offered that an elected CEO was critical to the success of a larger board size. Simply increasing the number of supervisors would not create an effective governance model.
Elected CEO Eligibility. The Senators acknowledged that the wrong person elected to the CEO/CAO position could be devastating to a local agency. Position eligibility requirements (such professional background, educational attainment) for an elected CEO/CAO were considered but then dismissed when the conversation started to include other elected positions and possible eligibility requirements.
Elected and Strong CAOs/CEOs are not the Same: Former Los Angeles County CEO David Janssen and Walt Ekard helpfully pointed out the difference between an “elected county CEO” and a “strong county CAO/CEO” and spoke persuasively to the merits of the latter. The Senators seemed to be unaware of the many variations between elected and strong county administrators and the existing charter county authority to create such a position.
County Boundaries: The idea of redrawing county boundaries to help with representation was discussed briefly and the Senators considered beginning to look into a study to understand what, if any, solutions would merit further research in light of federal, state, and local revenue streams and service responsibilities.