The time of Danville Town Council members being able to maintain their positions potentially in perpetuity is being challenged by a group of residents who have launched a campaign to impose term limits on the elected position.
Supporters of term limits have proposed that council members be only allowed to serve no more than two four-year terms. They are working to gather signatures from Danville residents on their initiative petition that would demand the council send the issue to voters on a future ballot.
A group of residents known only as "Danville Term Limits" argues that entrenched incumbents are too difficult for prospective challengers to dislodge. They say term limits will enable new faces with new ideas to take the council dais.
“History has shown that long-time incumbency delays progress, perpetuates old ideas, and results in a stagnated vision. Term limits will decisively put an end to 30-year incumbents and usher in new, vibrant leadership with fresh perspectives to improve our town, rather than continue with political ‘business as usual,’" Danville Term Limits proponents wrote on their website.
No sitting Town Council member has ever lost a re-election bid since Danville incorporated in 1982.
"The whole concept of term limits suggest that voters lack the ability to make educated choices and need to have their options further narrowed by eliminating some experienced candidates who have strong records to stand on," countered Danville's Mayor Robert Storer. "I believe our record on solid fiscal responsibility, no unfunded liabilities, town services, healthy finances, strong reserve accounts, well managed assets."
Collectively, the current Town Council possesses 57 years of experience leading the Danville town government.
This number is led by Councilman Newell Arnerich who has served on the council for 23 years, followed by Vice Mayor Karen Stepper with 17 years, Mayor Storer with 10 years, Councilwoman Renee Morgan with seven and Councilwoman Lisa Blackwell with two years.
Prior to their election to the council, each member also possesses years of experience on various commission and advisory boards that help govern the town -- the exception being Stepper, who was elected directly to her seat but had prior service on the school board.
"Fact is, in an environment where state intervention and regulation is becomingly increasingly prevalent, there is some real value to experience, and qualified candidates should be eligible for consideration by voters based upon their qualifications, experience, historical knowledge and perspective in a town they represent," Storer added.
Term limits are not unprecedented in Tri-Valley governments.
While the San Ramon Valley Unified School District and San Ramon City Council do not contain term limits for their seats, San Ramon's mayor seat is restricted to a maximum of four two-year terms. Term limits are also in place in Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore.
According to petitioners in Danville, a key argument is their hope that through rotating town leaders, more Danville residents will be encouraged to take on a leadership role, hopefully ensuring a fresh rotation of new ideas.
“In Danville, Town Council members have a combined Council/Commission service of 88 years,” petitioners said in a statement. “While some may argue that anyone can run for public office, it is extremely difficult to run against an incumbent and impossible to win.”
“Incumbents have significant campaign contributions from building their network after years -- in this case 24 or 20 (years) -- of being in power, they have name recognition, and they have a loyal following. Sadly, if a citizen is not part of the ‘following,’ he has no chance of serving on the Town Council. In fact, no incumbent has ever lost in the town of Danville,” they added.
Danville Term Limits proponents further say the selection of residents to the town’s various advisory boards and commissions, saying that unless a resident is an “insider” among established officials, they have little chance of being appointed by the council to serve on a governing board.
A notice of intention to circulate the petition was filed with the city clerk on Sept. 19 by Danville residents Melody Covay and Nasser Mirzai, according to Danville’s public information officer Geoff Gillete.
Residents may recognize Covay as a vocal opponent to the proposed Magee Preserve project, which Danville voters will vote on in 2020.
A ballot title and summary was provided on Oct. 2, starting the 180-day period in which proponents can circulate the petition. In order to qualify for the November 2020 ballot, the petition will need to contain valid signatures from 10% of registered Danville voters -- which comes out to approximately 3,007 signatures.
According to the official ballot summary prepared for the group by Danville city attorney Rob Ewing, if passed by voters “term limits would be prospective only, meaning that any time served on the Town Council by any individual prior to November 2020 would not count against the new limits.”
Petition supporters have said that opportunities will be made available to sign the petition at local stores as well as farmer’s market over the next couple of weeks -- volunteers will even come to residents homes if they are unable to attend a petition event. When announced specific locations can be found on the group’s website www.DanvilleTermLimits.com as well as its social media platforms.
The full ballot title and summary reads:
“AN INITIATIVE ESTABLISHING TERM LIMITS FOR MEMBERS OF THE DANVILLE TOWN COUNCIL
"The Danville Town Council consists of five members elected at large from the community for four-year terms. Council elections are held in November of even-numbered years, with three of the five seats voted upon at one election, two seats at the next election. There is no limit on the number of terms an individual may serve on the Town Council.
"While California law does not require term limits for councilmembers, it does provide a process for the voters of a city or town to enact such limits. Government Code Section 36502(b) provides that the voters in a city or town may establish term limits by majority vote at a regularly scheduled election. The law also provides that if term limits are approved by the voters, those limits shall apply prospectively only.
"The proposed initiative would amend the Danville Municipal Code to add a new section prohibiting any person from serving more than two, four-year terms on the Danville Town Council. Specifically, the initiative, if enacted, would do the following:
" *The initiative defines a ‘four-year term’ for a Councilmember as being an election or appointment to the Town Council for a term of more than two years. This means that if a vacancy arose on the Town Council between regular elections and the remaining term for that vacant position was more than two years, it would count as one of the two permitted terms for the individual filling the vacancy.
" *The limit of two four-year terms is a lifetime limit, meaning that once a person served two four-year terms (as defined above), whether or not those terms were consecutive, that individual could neither be elected nor appointed in the future to another term on the Town Council.
"*As required by Government Code Section 36502(b), the term limits would be prospective only, meaning that any time served on the Town Council by any individual prior to November 2020 would not count against the new limits.”