Article - Office of College Advancement
Ohlone expected to change long criticized election system
By Matthew Artz, Oakland Tribune.
Fremont — Ohlone College leaders this week are poised to officially do away with the school's long-criticized system for electing board members.
The seven-member board is expected Wednesday to approve a resolution to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, ending its system in which candidates vie for specific seats on the board instead of competing in an open field, with the top overall vote-getters winning election.
The new system would debut in November when four seats are up for grabs — two representing Newark and two representing the entire district, composed of Newark, Fremont and part of Union City.
"Before, you had some (incumbents) who never had any challengers," board member John Weed said of old election system, in which the seats were numbered one through seven and candidates had to declare which seat they would seek.
Ohlone trustees voted to scrap numbered seats in February after nearly two decades of pressure from the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area.
The league argued that numbered seats were undemocratic because strong incumbents were rarely challenged, while challengers flocked to contest seats that were vacant or held by a weaker incumbent. The college is reverting to its original voting system designed to ensure that Newark residents are represented on the board.
Two of the seven seats will be decided only by Newark voters and represented only by Newark residents. The other five seats will be voted on by the entire district, but restricted to candidates from Fremont and Union City.
This November, the top two finishers for the Newark seats and the top two finishers for the districtwide seats will be elected to the board.
"We feel that it's a better system for the voters," said Miriam Keller of the League of Women Voters.
The Ohlone board adopted numbered seats about 1979 to target an incumbent who colleagues wanted off the board, said Weed, who has served on the board since 1977 and always has opposed the numbered-seat system.
Just two years ago, the board voted 4-3 to keep numbered seats, but two members of that majority — Bob Brunton and Trisha Tahmasbi — no longer are on the board.
When the league again forced the issue this year, there was strong support for making a change.
"Before, you were actually targeting a specific person," board member Rich Watters said. "It seemed very confrontational to me."
Watters and Bill McMillin both say they are planning to run for re-election in November as the two Newark representatives. The two Fremont board members up for election this year, Garrett Yee and Weed, haven't decided if they will run for the two seats that will be open to a districtwide vote.
Meanwhile Brunton, who lost his 2008 re-election bid, says he is strongly considering running in the districtwide race.
The league isn't finished advocating for more open government reforms with the college.
The college should start televising its workshops and provide more information about topics on its meeting agenda, Keller said. When the board first approved the election changes in February, it was listed on the meeting agenda only as "Recommended Election Policy Approval."
By Bay Area News Group.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010—Reprinted from Inside Bay Area: The Argus.
The story "Ohlone set to change election system" in Sunday's Argus incorrectly explained the new procedure for electing Ohlone College board members. The entire district will vote both for the two seats contested by Newark residents and the five seats contested by residents of Fremont and Union City. The story incorrectly stated that the two Newark seats would only be voted on by Newark residents.