Supervisor Rexroad Proposes Changes For Selecting Chair of Board of Supervisors

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matt_rexroad2Currently the County Board of Supervisors, like the Davis School Board, rotates its presiding officer in order to share the bounty and the experience.  This arrangement produces equity at the expense of effectiveness, or so argues Matt Rexroad who represents Woodland as the third 3rd District Supervisor.

The rotation of board members means that, according to current policies, Matt Rexroad would become the next chair and preside over meetings.  However, sensing an opportunity to change the system when it is least likely to anger his colleagues as they are in line to become chair, Mr. Rexroad is suggesting that we alter the system.

Instead of having a rotational basis, he wants the board to elect the chair, and allow that individual to serve as long as the board is comfortable with that person’s leadership.  This would ostensibly give the county the opportunity to put the best person for the job in that position.

The Vanguard spoke to Matt Rexroad by phone on Friday evening.  In his view, not everyone is equally qualified to be chair.

For instance, some of his colleagues have refused to speak for the board or for the county, when they were in the minority on a vote.  The view of the board should be that of three members, which would be a majority, not that of the individual member who is serving as chair.

Mr. Rexroad felt that three of his former colleagues, including some prior to when he got on the board, did a poor job as chair and a poor job of speaking for the board majority.

Currently the board chair has a few extra duties including running meetings, writing the agenda, the power to call special meetings and even the power to declare a state of emergency.  Moreover, the chair is the voice of the board, representing the county with the media and when dealing with other jurisdictions.

One of his colleagues that Matt Rexroad thought did a great job as chair was Supervisor Mike McGowan of West Sacramento.

However, Supervisor McGowan appears not to be particularly fond of the plan, telling the Davis Enterprise, “That just leads to mischief.  That leads to some bad feelings. I think it leads to some struggles that aren’t necessary.”

Supervisor McGowan, while acknowledging that there are good examples of strong leadership, such as West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon who has pushed projects through the pipeline as a strong mayor with good leadership skills.

However, overall Mr. McGowan is standing firm for the weak chair system.

“The annual transfer of power keeps a good balance,” Supervisor McGowan told the Enterprise, “because it reinforces the notion that we have to work collaboratively and equally together. We are equals on the board. That’s one reason there’s such a high level of civility and congeniality.”

There would appear to be some strengths to this approach, but the downside would appear to be the ramifications on pitting one colleague against another. Just ask the Davis City Council.  Time will tell how those wounds heal.

And while Mr. Rexroad may see such struggles to be a possibility, he clearly believed it would be the exception rather than the rule.  Moreover, it would ensure that those most capable of serving as chair would step forward.

Counting votes, this would appear to be another one of those where Mr. Rexroad loses by a 4-1 vote.  Supervisor McGowan is dead set against it.  It seems likely that Jim Provenza, as the Supervisor from the Fourth District who is poised to become chair next year, would oppose it.  Duane Chamberlain, who represents the first District, would appear to be one of the targets of Mr. Rexroad’s initiative.

One wild card is Don Saylor, and it is difficult to know how Mr. Saylor would approach this issue, whether he believes he could eventually be chair, or if he does not want to cross his colleagues Supervisors McGowan and Provenza.

In all, it is an interesting idea but it would be difficult to get the colleagues to change their organizational structure without an imminent and compelling need, and frankly I just do not see one.

The advantages of a modified system are there, but they are not overwhelming in the face of the drawbacks.  It is not clear to me that the Board of Supervisors or the Board of Education are worse run than the Davis City Council or other systems that have a stronger mayorship.

Then again, I know of a number of people who think that Davis should go from the system it has now to some sort of voting process so that the council does not end up with a minority mayor who is constantly undercut by the council majority.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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8 thoughts on “Supervisor Rexroad Proposes Changes For Selecting Chair of Board of Supervisors”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “For instance, some of his colleagues have refused to speak for the board or for the county, when they were in the minority on a vote. The view of the board should be that of three members, which would be a majority, not that of the individual member who is serving as chair.”

    I am baffled by how this problem would be solved by a new system in which the Chair is elected by Board members. The person elected still may hold minority views on particular issues or even on most issues…

    The more compelling reason to elect a Chair is continuity. When you change Chairs every so often, you lose continuity.

    There are up sides and down sides to either system…

  2. Rifkin

    Rexroad is right.

    The system Yolo County uses is essentially what Stephen Souza proposed for the Davis City Council in his last-ditch effort to become our mayor for 6 months.

    It is true that by allowing the council (or the Board) to choose its mayor and keep that person in charge of the meetings as long as he (or she) has the support of a majority of the members does not mean that the mayor will always be on the majority side of all votes, though it seems likely he will on most. What it means is that the mayor is someone that a majority of the people on the council or board believes is best qualified to run the meetings. Most agree THAT is the primary distinguishing role of a mayor–effectively running meetings.

    And as Matt has said, if the mayor loses the confidence of his colleagues, they can replace him. If, for example, a new election brings a change in the membership of the council or board, the new members might want to have a new mayor. Or the old mayor might just prefer to take a back seat.

    To my mind, the worst argument for elevating Joe Krovoza to mayor was Jerry Adler’s notion that someone serving for 3.5 years as mayor gives too much power to that one person. It seems to me that if the majority of our City Council thinks Joe is the best qualified person to serve as mayor now, a year from now or two and a half years from now, then Joe deserves to be mayor.

    What makes no sense to me–as long as we the people don’t directly elect someone as mayor–is to have someone in that job who his colleagues think is not the best at running the meetings (or setting the agenda), but he gets to stay in the mayor’s seat simply because he won a few more votes in his race for the council two years earlier.

    It’s a bit different for the County, because we have district elections for those seats. But inside the meetings, it’s really the same situation. If the members believe one person is best suited to run the meetings, that person should be chosen by his colleagues as Chair.

  3. Roger Rabbit

    Not too familiar with this “problem”? if there is a problem. But my gut says if a person like Matt, who is a politician, who likes his power and does not do something unless it benefits him in someway, this is just another way to give power to someone he (other politicians) likes and prevent power from someone he (other politicians) may not like.

    Birds of feather flock together, Matt is close and a big supporter of DA Jeff Reisig, that in and of itself makes me suspect of any of his actions.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    My own sense of Matt is that he’s a bit of a maverick, who in a lot of ways marches to his own beat and has frequently gotten himself in trouble by saying things that are accurate but not advisable, one good example is his comment about a Palin endorsement not helping Fiorina, he was right but in his party and given his job, you can’t say it. I fail to see how this advantages him, I think he thinks it is the right thing to do.

  5. Sue Greenwald

    I agree with Rich Rifkin on many issues, but this is one area where I don’t. I fundamentally agree with Mike McGowan that a weak mayor system is better. And both the City of Davis and the Yolo County currently have weak mayor systems. The important factor is not whether the mayor position rotates once every year or whether it is the highest vote-getter serving two years.

    Rather, the issue is whether there is a clear line of succession that eliminates politicking and that doesn’t automatically reinforce the tyranny of the majority.

    When a minority member is a mayor, as I was, it is their responsibility NOT to speak, as mayor, for a minority position. I was very careful about that. If a minority mayor speaks, as mayor, for a minority position, the council should point that out and instruct them not to do it. Repeated genuine infractions (not trumped-up political charges) could be cause for removal from office.

    (Interesting, we had an episode earlier this year when Don Saylor signed a letter to the legislature asking them to increase some tax-breaks to high-tech industry. He did this without council approval. Making things dicier, the position was one that was diametrically opposed to the League of California Cities position – the League on which he held a leadership position. I pointed it out to staff and the letter was quietly rescinded, but if it had not been I would have just taken it to the council as item submitted by councilmember.)

    Steve’s disappointment during the last meeting was a result of the fact that we didn’t have a clear line of succession for selection upon vacancy. That situation developed because, in the face of a lack of clear guidance, we had to adopt the method that Rexroad is suggesting. I would prefer not to go down that road again.

    Personally, I like our highest vote-getter ordinance. It provides a clear line of succession, our citizens seem to like it, yet it is still allows a minority member to become mayor and is the kind of democratic, weak mayor system that Mike McGowan speaks of.

  6. davisite2

    The Yolo County Board of Supervisors is made up of members who, while representing the County as a whole, are chosen by constituencies that often have different interests. These Supervisors are dependent upon their constituencies,ie Davis, Woodland and West Sac, for their reelection . It is a given that there is a great deal of political “horse-trading” among the BOS with regard to the special interests of their own constituencies.Rotating the position of mayor allows these separate interests to have, at least structurally, equal access to whatever additinal “power” the Chair of the BOS possesses.

  7. Sue Greenwald

    Of course I agree that in a jurisdiction like the county that has district elections, the highest vote-getter system would not work. I agree with Mike McGowan that for the county board of supes, the rotating mayor system is a good one.

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