The Los Altos City Council narrowly approved a regulation Feb. 12 placing a four-year waiting period on former city councilmembers seeking appointment to all city volunteer bodies.
An amendment to Section 4.4 of the council’s Norms and Procedures passed by a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw and Councilwoman Megan Satterlee dissenting.
The four-year hiatus was a compromise of sorts for the council after the original revision – authored by Satterlee – called for an outright ban on former councilmembers serving on city commissions and standing committees, but not on ad hoc committees or task forces.
The close vote came after a lengthy debate about the potential advantages and pitfalls of former councilmembers serving on a city body soon after an expired council term.
“It seems to me … that there are two divergent views of former Los Altos mayors and councilmembers,” Councilwoman Val Carpenter said. “I think either they’re among the most dedicated volunteers we have, who add great value to an organization that they give their time and talent to. Or, they exert undue influence and should be banned from serving on any city-funded and council-appointed bodies.”
Carpenter noted that while the provision would ban service on commissions and standing committees, former councilmembers would still be allowed to serve on ad hoc committees and task forces, as outlined in Section 5 of the council regulations.
Initially, Carpenter said her preference was either to strike the ban altogether or to apply it across the board. She later offered her support for a two-year waiting period for city-funded bodies, instead of the across-the-board four-year wait that was approved.
Fishpaw also offered his support for striking the ban or a two-year waiting period.
“Someday I might want to serve on the Senior Commission,” said Fishpaw, 25, with a grin.
Satterlee countered that the rule’s intent was to encourage participation from residents who previously haven’t served on a city-appointed volunteer body. She noted that commissioners and committee members, like councilmembers, are subject to term limits in part for that reason.
“If our primary purpose was to have the most experienced people – who I would argue councilmembers are – serving as our commissioners, then we would not have term limits,” Satterlee said. “We have terms limits to allow for fresh perspectives and allow for continued regeneration of community participation in government.”
As for ad hoc committees and task forces, Satterlee pointed to the city’s 60th anniversary committee, with members serving roles as ambassadors for Los Altos.
“Who better to be an ambassador within the city than former councilmembers?” Satterlee asked. “To exclude them from that I don’t think serves the same purpose of the standing commissions and committees.”
A compromise was ultimately reached on the four-year limit – suggested by Councilwoman Jan Pepper – coupled with the provision that it applied to all city bodies, as offered by Carpenter.
In addition to the four-year wait, the council voted unanimously on several other amendments, including one that bans members of the same family or household from simultaneously serving on the same body. Immediate family members of current councilmembers living in the same household are also ineligible for appointment to any city body.