Nelson Draws Flak for Proposing to Extend Supervisors’ Term Limits

Michelle Rubio for Voice of OC

Supervisor Shawn Nelson at a recent county supervisors meeting.

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

  • Judy Allen

    As an OC taxpayer…. I vote for a one four year lifetime term limit…. their colors will show in 4 years! That’s a LONG time for self-serving politicking….

  • astar2b

    No, that’s enough… Just leave…

  • Jacki Livingston

    Spitzie is claiming that they are being “punished” with term limits. What kind of a nincompoop says that? No, Todd, term limits are in place for a very good reason. It is so that people like you, who spend eight years doing nothing except fund raising and doing for your political future, are forced to go be a burden on someone else, for a change. You have milked the cow dry, using everything from a wolf dog to your wife and client to cover for you and make you look good. You guys spend half of your second terms gladhanding and kissing babies, to get elected to the next job you are woefully incompetent in and not ready for. You don’t even try to pretend that it is about serving the citizens of the county, you just whine like a four year old who got put on the naughty chair for stealing other kids’ toys. Waaaaah, waaaaah! What a self serving d%$&^#.

  • Bill Colver

    This is easily solved. The initiative should be worded to include current service. Thereby only allowing the current members to serve a maximum of three term.

    • Shirley L. Grindle

      Couldn’t agree with you more. I am in support of the 3-term lifetime limit but not at the expense of giving current Supervisors another 3 terms. If the proposed Initiative is re-worded to not give current Supervisors an additional 3-terms – I would support it. I would also like to see a term limit applied to the District Attorney and Sheriff – who are currently not term-limited.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Why? The President only serves two terms. Not a single one of the people currently in office as BoS, sheriff or DA deserves a third term. This isn’t like one or more of these people are so flipping fabulous that we need them. In fact, we would all be better off if they were limited to one term.

      Why should we reward mediocrity? Can anyone…anyone…tell us anything that any of these people have done that is worthy of three terms? No…no one can. In fact, given the amount of incompetence and downright corruption, they should be booted from the cushy little Starbucks sucking jobs they have.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Shawn…get a real job. No Love, Us

  • You can bet, if Spitzer wasn’t running for T-wreck’s seat, he would be scrambling to side with Nelson. Two terms is too long for these clowns. If anything, they should limit it to four years lifetime and get rid of the career politicians, many who use the supervisor seats for a waypoint.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Amen, Jeff.

  • Paul Lucas

    C’mon Shawn.

  • UnitedWeStand

    “No transparency” is a BIG problem in OC Government and all too often the OC Board of Supervisors are responsible!

    “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” You can say that again, capitalize with a capital C!

    “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 how would that happen when the Board of Supervisors meetings are in the morning when most people are working AND public comment period is at the very END of the meetings forcing constituents to sit through the entire meeting before they can speak? Everything has been done for the convenience of the politicians and to discourage the taxpayers!