At last night’s Board meeting there was a discussion item how and when to proceed with the process of changing from an appointed to an elected board. The current board consists of nine members, four from Brentwood, three from Oakley and two from the County. The representatives from Brentwood and Oakley are members of their City Councils and are appointed to the Fire Board by their respective Councils. The two County representatives are selected to represent the unincorporated communities of Bethel Island, Knightsen, Discovery Bay and Byron. They are both appointed by Supervisor Piepho. The representation is determined by population.
The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District was founded in 2002 through the consolidation of three small fire districts and organized under the Fire Protection District Law of 1987 (Health and Safety Code Sections 13800 through 13970). The District was initially governed by a board consisting of the County Board of Supervisions (BOS) pursuant to section 13837(b) of the law. When Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) created the district in 2002 there was a stipulation that the question of governance “shall be submitted for approval of the electorate” by December 2004. Obviously this hasn’t happened.
In October of 2009, the BOS authorized a change in the composition of the board pursuant to section 13837(a) of the law, which permits the Board and the City Councils within the District to appoint board members in proportion to the population under each body’s jurisdiction, provided that each body appoints at least one board member. The current board was so appointed and took office in February 2010. At this time the BOS did not include any mention, requirement or timing to transition to an elected Board. However, board members assumed that an election would occur in the near future and that our tenure as Board members would be a relatively short one.
The California Health and Safety Code (“Fire District Protection Law of 1987”) states that to change from an appointed to an elected Board of Directors is a two-step process: 1. submitting the question of converting to an elected board to the voters, then, if that passes, 2. holding a candidate election for the board seats. In order to place the first question on the November, 2012 ballot, the Board would have to act by early August. The Measure ‘S’ election cost the district around $125,000, this two-step process would cost the district roughly $250,000.
Under section 13846 of the Law, the elected board may be either at-large or by division (i.e., districts) proportionate to population; once a method is chosen and a board elected, in order to change to the other method, the question must be put to the voters. Under the circumstances here, the ballot question on whether to move to an elected board should also specify whether the board would be at-large or by division.
The at large option could allow for all of the board members to be elected from a single community, i.e., the Board could consist of nine members all elected from the city of Oakley. This may cause some consternation from those communities unrepresented.
If the district option is selected then the creation of nine District “divisions” (or districts) will be necessary. Divisions must be as equal in population as possible, and can be drawn based upon certain factors identified in state law, including geography, contiguity and community interests. Within the constraints of proportionate population, configuration options for divisions are innumerable, with boundary formation considerations that may take into account city and community boundaries and demand and location of service resources. The complex nature of the task may require the acquisition of specialized knowledge, along with the formation of a Sub-Committee for input and guidance, at the discretion of the Board. It was estimated that the process of creating district boundaries would cost between $50,000 and $60,000.
The election would be for the entire nine member board; once the board is elected, new terms of office would be staggered as provided in Section 10505 of the Elections Code. (Specifically, the newly elected directors would meet and divide themselves by lot into two groups of 4 members and 5 members. The 5 members would serve a four-year term and the 4 members would serve a two-year term.) Subsequent elections would always be for four-year terms.
Why a nine-member board? Representation on this board is determined by population. In a five-member board scenario Brentwood would have three representatives, Oakley and the County would have one. In a seven-member board Brentwood would have four representatives, Oakley two and the County one.
During the discussion last night the District’s legal advisor was asked if it was legal for Oakley and Brentwood Councils to appoint residents of those communities to the board. It is. So, looking at a cost of around $300,000 to move to an elected board and the impact that would have on the budget, the board decided that each City will look at the process of appointing board members.
If the citizens of the Fire District are insistent on an elected board there is still an option available that may be cost neutral for the district. The question of whether or not to have an elected board may be placed on the ballot by petition of 25% of the registered voters in the District. Since the district is not placing the question on the ballot it may be assumed that the county would bear the cost of the elections.