Love where you live!
By Anthony D. Mc Ivor
First of four essays on the Term Limit proposal submitted by La Mesa Today member Anthony D. Mc Ivor. Readers are encouraged to comment below or submit formal responses to be considered for publication.
LA MESA -- La Mesa is blessed. We have a vibrant civic culture with diverse volunteer organizations; our parks echo with the joy of families at picnics and sports; the community actively supports excellent schools; our public safety agencies are first-class; our government is small and efficient; we delight in regionally-noted community events every year; and we treasure the unrestricted freedom to vote for our local officials – none of whom are remote “pols.” Perfect? No, but close.
With all that, one can only wonder “Why term limits?” And especially, “Why here?”
As we’ve seen elsewhere, term limits build nothing. They merely destroy. What’s more, they discourage participation, promote short-term thinking and corrode our civic culture in many ways, large and small.
Remember, term limits does not mean that the best person wins. Limits just banish a whole class of candidates, with no regard to merit and with no thought as to the caliber of the pretenders. Term limits do nothing to prepare people for the complex intellectual and moral challenges of public office.
Isn’t that the real issue here in La Mesa? A perennial shortage of qualified, experienced candidates with visible track records of successful service in municipal affairs? Again, term limits offer nothing for that – but maybe we can.
We do not need to mimic the mistakes of other jurisdictions. Nor follow them into the same barren dead-end. We can find much better alternatives by thinking creatively about the direction we want our cherished town to take.
So here’s a challenge for the “Neanderthals” (the adopted name of the activists behind term limits) and the rest of us to consider. Instead of using the Municipal Code to toss people willy-nilly out of office, why don’t we make a sustained effort to get the best people in?
Shifting the focus to people who can win, rather than people who should be defeated, opens new windows all along the boulevard.
Here’s one idea: Why not raise money and community support to endow a foundation or fund with public oversight to supplement the professional preparation of those La Mesans interested in local office?
By organizing mentor programs and providing modest financial support, a fund would create real-time opportunities to learn about the issues that face our city and the skills needed to address them wisely: stewardship, governance, public sector management, and regional coordination.
In collaboration with local and state institutions, the fund could arrange valuable participation in events such as the Annual Conference of the California League of Cities and access to publications such as the League’s respected monthly, Western City.
In a word, such a fund would serve to strengthen and enhance the experience now gained by those who serve admirably in La Mesa’s “farm system” of commissions and boards. And through participation and writing or speaking about it, aspiring candidates could significantly raise their public profiles.
Looking down the road, wouldn’t it be nice to say, “We live in the city of La Mesa. We don’t ban candidates; we encourage qualified people to run.”
Opposing term limits is not just about saying “No!” though clearly that is what Proposition K roundly deserves. After all, many people find the notion of surrendering even a small part of our fundamental freedoms offensive. But more broadly, opposition springs from a different vision of our civic lives. One not fueled by anger or disappointment, but by optimism and confidence.
We believe in our town. We know that making the right choices will make it better. Let’s keep our ballots unrestricted and free. And then get to work on those choices. If not now, when?