Editor's Note: Dick Spotswood of the Marin IJ once again provides us with insightful commentary on the local political scene.
Dick Spotswood: One man's resolutions to improve Marin's civic culture
Posted: 12/30/2012 05:00:00 AM PST
IT'S TIME FOR MY annual list of New Year's resolutions to improve Marin's civic culture.
Determine which agencies are true pension reformers. Despite conflicting claims, progress is difficult without knowing which local governments are engaged in meaningful public employee pension reforms and which are full of hot air. Marin's Grand Jury, the one institution with countywide credibility, should compare and contrast reforms now enacted by Marin's 11 cities, county government and special purpose districts.
Marinites need to find out which have made progress, the actual savings achieved, the remaining unfunded liability of each jurisdiction's public employee pension fund and the cost of their unfunded commitment for employee lifetime health care. Those who have accomplished little need to be spotlighted before November's municipal elections.
Eliminate the Board of Supervisors' slush fund. Kudos to Supervisor Steve Kinsey for proposing change that would, if adopted, eliminate from each of Marin's five supervisors the power to annually hand out a combined $500,000 in discretionary cash grants.
The current setup is a stunt old-time East Coast politicians would admire.
Each supervisor now plays Santa Claus, showering money on admittedly worthy projects. The practice creates political IOUs while fostering fear on the part of recipients.
Few who get the cash say they receive it from taxpayers. Invariably the reaction is, "Look what we got from, say, Supervisor Susan Adams. Better be nice and not cross her if we want to get the money again next year." This practice has no place in a county that prides itself on being a model of political rectitude.
Stand up to bullying regional governments. Agencies such as MTC, ABAG, HUD, Regional Air and Water Quality, famed for their large well-paid staffs and unaccountability, need to be tamed. Social engineering is a term often associated with the hysterical political right. It sometimes accurately describes these agencies.
Masked by well sounding but ultimately ambiguous terms such as "affordable housing" and "curbing global warming," regional agencies are essentially at war with middle class suburbia. Their utterly bogus occasional suggestion of "racism" is designed to terrorize white liberal politicians into submission. County and city governments should partner with municipalities in Santa Clara, San Mateo and eastern Alameda County that face similar threats to local planning authority and are ready to revolt.
Encourage good people to run for local office. November sees elections for seats on eight Marin city councils as well as school boards and boards of cash-rich fire and sanitary districts. Marin's political secret is that first-class people will no longer endure the dirty campaigns that are now common in some local politics. Finding second-rate candidates to run is never hard.
In years past, Marin was noted for competent business and professional men and women standing for local office. It's not that these upstanding folks no longer want to serve. The impressive list of applicants for appointment to San Rafael's vacant City Council seat is testimony to the desire of some to participate while avoiding the terror of campaigning.
Marin voters can do their duty by supporting intelligent, nonideological candidates while ostracizing those who debase good government by running or acquiescing to sleazy campaigning
Remind Marc Levine to remain the centrist Democrat who voters elected. Once settled in Sacramento it's easy for new legislators to be co-opted by their party's leadership. If Levine forgets the voters who helped him upset public employee union-oriented incumbent Assembly member Michael Allen, then independents, moderate Democrats and pragmatic Republicans will abandon him in 2014.
Columnist Dick Spotswood of Mill Valley now shares his views on local politics twice weekly in the IJ. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.