A handful of people told the county’s community college district board they favor changing to district elections but the body will hold another public hearing next week for more input before making any final decisions about how members are chosen.
After hearing from speakers that included county Supervisor Dave Pine and former civil grand jury forewoman Virginia Chang Kiraly, the consensus appears to be leaning toward change, said Dave Mandelkern, president of the San Mateo County Community College District board. He said there are still some unanswered questions — like if it is easier for a candidate to come in first in a district race or third countywide in at-large elections — and more public opinion to hear but generally he sides with individual districts choosing a single representative.
"I’m coming away with the idea that maybe it’s a wash but the district idea is probably a benefit overall,” Mandelkern said.
The district oversees three colleges and serves more than 40,000 students annually. Trustees for the five-member board are not required to live within a certain geographic area or district. The board reviews its elections process approximately every decade but the current consideration comes as San Mateo County reconsiders its own at-large elections in light of a pending lawsuit.
The differences in the two systems are primarily how many voters a candidate needs to convince and how much money it will cost to run. At-large elections ask voters to choose board members to represent the entire county instead of just the district from which they are elected. Proponents argue this makes members more accountable to all voters and limits factions on the board. Opponents, however, say the system tends to be more expensive because of the countywide campaigning required.
In district elections, voters only choose a representative from within specific boundaries which cuts down on campaign costs for candidates but which opponents say leave board members with a narrow focus on only the specific concerns of their district.
Mandelkern said he disagrees with that argument.
At Wednesday’s hearing at College of San Mateo, Mandelkern said other alternatives were also suggested — ranked choice or drawing districts by voters rather than population, for example. But the law does not allow any options other than at large or district and by population, he said.
"They were good suggestions. Some just aren’t feasible,” he said.
The district will hold another public hearing next Wednesday night at Skyline College, said Barbara Christensen, director of community/government relations for the district.
Afterward, the board may seek even more public opinion or decide it has collected enough and begin its own discussions on the right path, Mandelkern said.
He said the board wants to know not only if the public favors district elections but, if so, how does it want those districts drawn — for example, if cities should be kept intact or the unincorporated areas lumped together — and would it prefer five, seven or nine trustees. The board asked its demographer to return with some sample maps of various configurations for consideration.
The earliest election affected by a change is November 2013. Current trustees would finish out their terms but those with terms ending in 2013 would need to live within the new districts to seek re-election.
The San Mateo County Community College District Board meets 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19 at the Skyline College Student Center, Building 6, Room 202, 3300 College Drive, San Bruno.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.