Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson has proposed an extension of term limits for county supervisors, prompting criticism from prominent fellow Republicans who claim it’s a last-minute deceptive move to benefit himself.
Nelson’s proposal, which was revealed last week and is up for a vote by supervisors Tuesday to place it on the November ballot, would extend supervisors’ term limits from two four-year terms to three four-year terms and impose this as a lifetime limit.
The county's current law allows a termed-out supervisor to run again for the office as long there’s a gap in which he or she is not on the Board of Supervisors.
Nelson is in his second term and will be termed out in late 2018 under the current law. But if his proposal goes to the ballot and voters approve, Nelson’s term limits clock would reset to zero, giving him up to 12 extra years as a supervisor.
Nelson says his proposal is rooted in a similar effort in 2012 by then-Supervisor John Moorlach. Both Nelson and Moorlach argue that it takes years for supervisors to get up to speed in understanding the complexities of county government and policy.
“Forcing an individual out of office after eight years of service (as is current practice) only diminishes a Supervisor’s and his/her staff’s ability to capitalize on the years of education and experience to achieve significant and sustained reforms on behalf of Orange County taxpayers,” wrote Nelson and his chief of staff, Denis Bilodeau, in a staff report on the new proposal.
Nelson has also said recently that he isn't planning to seek another term as supervisor in 2018, instead aiming to run for a judgeship.
But some of his colleagues, as well as a prominent local Republican activist, are crying foul.
“With no conversation about this, there are a lot of frustrated people that are very angry…this thing came out of nowhere,” Supervisor Todd Spitzer told Voice of OC on Monday.
“He’s made campaign promises [before], and then he’s figured out how to get around those campaign promises. He unequivocally said he wouldn’t take the pension” but created a ballot initiative “that required him to take the pension,” Spitzer added.
“It’s rushed, there’s been no dialogue, no transparency, and it’s completely self-serving…the whole thing is just crazy to me.”
Local GOP activist Jon Fleischman railed against Nelson’s proposal in a blog post.
“Nelson’s cynical ploy – if he can grab two co-conspirators – would create an entire board of career politicians, taking in their big paychecks and building up massive pensions, while avoiding a return to private life,” Fleishman wrote.
“Nelson’s proposal also cynically is framed to ask voters if they want a three term-limit for Supervisors, without making it clear that there is already a two-term limit in place!”
Fleishman also wrote that Supervisor Michelle Steel, a close ally of Fleishman’s, “strongly opposes” placing Nelson’s measure on the ballot. A spokeswoman for Steel didn’t dispute the characterization.
Nelson didn’t return a phone message seeking comment for this story.
Spitzer said he’s not opposed to having a conversation about term limits, but that it should be done in a way that invites public input and isn’t led by someone with a direct interest in the outcome.
“The Board of Supervisors today are still being punished [through the current term limits] for the sins of the 1994 supervisors that created the bankruptcy,” Spitzer said.
“I think it would be helpful to have a conversation about term limits in general, but not in a rushed fashion when it affects Nelson and he’s the one leading the conversation, and he’s not included the public at all.”
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.