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Ventura Council Sticks With Status Quo, Won't Restrict City Panelists

Politics: Members deadlock over whether to limit people who serve on commissions, committees and boards, effectively squelching an unwritten two-term rule.

March 19, 1997|HILARY E. MacGREGOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — Every council member agreed that something needed to be done about the current system.

But after half an hour of heated debate, the Ventura City Council voted Monday night to stick with the status quo: The city will not impose term limits on volunteers serving on the city's 14 boards, commissions and committees.

The decision will also effectively squelch the unwritten--and only selectively enforced--practice of selecting committee members for only two terms.

The vote was 3 to 3, resulting in no action being taken. Councilwoman Rosa Lee Measures is out of town for the week.

Saying term limits could drive out good people, Mayor Jack Tingstrom and council members Steve Bennett and Ray Di Guilio voted against them.

But arguing that the committee system needs a constant infusion of new blood, council members Jim Friedman, Gary Tuttle and Jim Monahan voted in favor of limits.

The proposal to establish rules was suggested by the three council members who make recommendations for who should sit on the city committees--Di Guilio, Bennett and Monahan.

The issue comes before the council now because numerous vacancies are to occur soon. A total of 24 terms will end in 1997.

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Monahan said city staff is playing a larger role in the selection process these days and that, too, is prompting change. He said increased bureaucracy makes a policy or guideline a necessity.

Bennett said the issue came up in a recent session when the three councilmen realized how ambiguous the rules--or lack of rules--are.

"We need to try to clarify this in the long run," Bennett told the council. He laid out the problems: "We didn't even know what a term was. We try to limit it to two terms, but sometimes we make exceptions."

He concluded: "We shouldn't stay with the status quo--which is an unwritten, two-term policy which sometimes can be applied, sometimes can't."

The advisory panels--which oversee everything from libraries to art in public places to tourism and special events--are made up of volunteers who make recommendations to the City Council, serving as a grass-roots part of the policy-making process.

In the past, the council has operated under the informal rule that no appointee should serve more than two terms. But without a formal policy or guideline, exceptions were often made.

As a result, volunteers who serve on the high-profile committees, such as the Planning Commission, rarely serve more than three terms, while volunteers on more obscure technical committees--such as the Inspection Services Appeals Board--sometimes serve for decades.

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Friedman argued that the city needs to tap its huge pool of qualified people to serve on committees.

"Do I wish to see term limits? Absolutely," he said. "We need to bring in new, fresh blood, new ideas."

Monahan agreed.

"I think a lot of people are being kept out," he said. "We have many, many applications from people who want to get involved. It's not really fair to keep appointing the same people."

But Tingstrom argued that if the city cleared away veteran volunteers, it could wipe out ranks of qualified people.

"I would not go for term limits," he said before the vote. "You adopt that, you wipe out things. . . ."

Di Guilio, too, worried about losing good people.

"As long as an individual is serving the community well, we should not have limits," he said.

Nicholas Deitch, a local architect, is serving his third term on two panels--the Historic Preservation Committee and the Design Review Committee.

He says he can understand why it is important to get fresh blood into the committee system, but he does not know whether imposing term limits is the answer.

"There's no question that people who serve for a long time can get kind of stale," he said. "The problem with term limits is you can have people who are really good . . . and then two terms are up, and it's, 'Sorry, you're out of here!' "

He suggested that city officials might be able to better monitor committee members and their effectiveness by meeting with them--even once a year--to discuss important issues.

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