December 7, 2004 > Editorial: 'Tis the Season for Vacancies
Editorial: 'Tis the Season for Vacancies
We have reached a political turning point for the Tri-Cities. Each municipality will replace at least one member of their city council. When the total number of councilmembers is five, just one new member can alter decision dynamics considerably. In Fremont, a council change of two members will also be accompanied by a shift by Bob Wasserman to mayor.
It is interesting to note that until 1996, the elected mayoral position in Fremont was a two year role. Looking back over the history of elections in that city, it is evident that in most cases, aspiring politicians had relatively short careers. In fact, during several stormy periods, recalls were threatened and, at times, successful. Appointments to fill council vacancies were of brief duration and special elections frequently held to select a new councilmember. Term limits were introduced and with the exit of Angus Morrison, last of the old time politicos, the political landscape of Fremont is ripe for change.
Private cabals of elected officials whose decisions were contrary to the public will have been severely punished by the electorate in the past. Current politicians should be aware that the past can often be an accurate predictor of the future. Many voters will be watching the "open and transparent" appointment process that takes place under the new mayor. It will be his first test of fairness, the nonpartisan nature of city politics and a peek into the future of how this council will operate under Mayor Wasserman's leadership.
With new faces on the scene and a fresh outlook for Fremont, inter-city relations can be improved and regional problems faced in a cooperative environment. The future holds increased economic and transportation challenges including the Dumbarton Rail Corridor, BART extension, Highway 84, transit centers and changes at Pacific Commons and NewPark Mall to name a few. In this active setting, there is a great need for more citizens to take part on public boards and commissions where decisions lay a foundation for important results at the local level.
It is time for people who care about their community to investigate and participate on the boards and commissions that are part of their government. These important advisory groups exist to help city and regional personnel with the process of deciding community issues involving bikes, hiking trails, planning, recreation, youth, historical review, human relations, transportation...and the list goes on. Look at your city, county or regional organization's website or contact their offices to find out what opportunities exist and how to express interest in participating. There is no magic to this, only a desire to take part in the decision-making process.
In many cases, there is too little scrutiny of the actions of appointed and elected boards. Some high profile board meetings are attended with significant citizen input, but only when a "hot" item is on the agenda. This sporadic view of board actions can be misleading. Public boards and commissions operate in unrestricted view of community members but few, if any are watching. Many public entities such as the Water District, Sanitary District and Hospital District are carrying out significant work for the Tri-Cities and deserve attention. Board members are often hard-working and dedicated individuals who, for minor compensation, are given considerable responsibility in relative obscurity. This is admirable, but the unknown nature of their actions can also be an invitation to longevity without accountability. Regional boards are especially critical since their actions can affect large areas and critical resources. As the November election has changed the landscape of elected bodies, so will boards and commissions change as member terms expire. Now is the time to get involved!