Don't Like District Elections? Here's another idea you might not like:
Opnion submitted by Davis Barber
Volunteers can stop volunteering anytime and they cannot be held accountable because they serve only on their own terms.
People who are paid are required to perform duties required to earn the income. The potential loss of income holds them accountable.
Unpaid politicians are not accountable to anyone.
That is why elected officials should be paid a fair wage by the people who elect them. Officials should serve at the pleasure of the public and paying them is the most direct way to do it.
Paying council members reduces potential influence by outside contributors. Granted, that fails terribly at the national level, what with Citizens United, etc. Interest groups will always fund candidates whom they expect to advance their cause. That’s normal and in my view, the same as any of us making $25 donations to a campaign. We offer up money to hopefully get our way.
Planning commissioner Ma’Ayn Johnson told me during the last election cycle that she donates to every candidate on the local ballot. She does so to help get out the message each has to offer. Not a bad idea.
Another argument to pay Fullerton electeds is that we ask a lot from them. Public meetings are brutally long, the materials we expect them to be expert with are often complex and enormous. Events they should attend are numerous, and slighting any one of them risks alienating a group of constituents.
Personally, I’d like to run for city council, but I can’t afford to. My work does come before my public service. That could change if I was paid to be of service. I’ve talked with Sebourn and Mayor Jennifer Fitzpatrick about this in the past and each of them point to the job historically being a part-time commitment. In fact Sebourn, before he was first elected, told me an incumbent had once told him that he could “really only show up and vote at the meetings. That’s all you really have to do.”
Sebourn did not and has not followed that advice, and he’s been as active in public and private events as any of us could expect.
But I don’t buy that it’s only part-time, either. Having a regular job or career while also serving a demanding public is a recipe for exhaustion and bad decisions. Or worse, the willingness to follow outside advice without challenge.
Additionally, unpaid service shrinks the talent pool by excluding willing citizens who are smart enough but can’t devote the time because of income limitations. This effectively provides the same exclusionary results as at-large elections. Entire classes of residents are disenfranchised because they do not have a more entitled lifestyle. That’s just plain wrong.
In a civic environment where the Barry Levinsons and Joe Imbrianos complain about, well, everything, a step in the right direction would be to establish accountability by paying the council members. If they were paid, Joe and Barry could go after them instead of City Manage Joe Felz. Felz is paid handsomely, of course, and he should be. His is by far the toughest job on the dais. Aside from the City Attorney, the city manager is the only one who can be fired for not bowing to political pressure. That’s backwards, and it’s time to step towards reality. District elections is a good start, as it will surely dilute the old-money status quo.
The next step will be hiring people for the job who will do what we, the people, elect them to do.
Davis Barber is the founder, editor and publisher of FullertonStories.com. Your letters opinions are welcome. PLease send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.