Newport-Mesa board revives discussion of trustee term limits

A discussion about term limits for Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees that was put on hold in July returned to the table Tuesday night as the district’s legal counsel offered information to the board on how term limits could be enacted.

According to Spencer Covert, an attorney from Parker and Covert LLP in Tustin, the matter is subject to a public vote in an election.

The question could be placed on the ballot by the board or through a petition of registered voters in the district.

Board members currently can serve an unlimited number of four-year terms.

“There are definitely pros to having new people come in … new ideas, new blood,” said board Vice President Vicki Snell, who first joined the board in 2014. But, she added, experienced trustees can help mentor newer members.

“I think the community does want term limits,” Snell said. “So how do we do this where we can get some input from the community and seriously talk about it?”

Board President Karen Yelsey, who suggested term limits when she first ran for the board in 2006, agreed with getting community input.

The trustees discussed the possibility of putting together an advisory board to gather public comments.

As Snell noted, Costa Mesa City Council members are limited to two consecutive four-year terms, though they can return in a later year after being termed out.

“Regardless of what we say, it’s up to the voters,” said trustee Martha Fluor, who first joined the board in 1991.

In July, trustees discussed a proposal for term limits but voted to delay further discussion until after the November election.

The proposal, under which board members could serve a maximum of three four-year terms, was brought to the trustees by Leslie Bubb, Amy Peters and Michael Schwarzmann in hopes that term limits would be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot. At the time, the three were running for school board seats.

Several trustees favored saving the conversation for later to remove the issue from the “political arena.”

Other area school districts such as Laguna Beach Unified and the Ocean View and Huntington Beach Union High School districts do not have trustee term limits.

On Tuesday, Newport-Mesa Supt. Fred Navarro offered the board his own research on term limits for state legislators. Fifteen states have term limits for legislators, 29 states have never had them and six states had term limits but repealed them, he said.

“What they’ve learned is that short terms discourage potential candidates,” Navarro said. “People don’t want to go into a state legislature if they’re not going to have the time to make change.

“Just some food for thought. The expectations and the outcomes haven’t aligned yet.”

“I vote for someone who I think is going to do a good job,” Newport-Mesa trustee Charlene Metoyer said Tuesday. “When someone leaves because they termed out, I feel cheated because I know how long it takes to get up to speed, especially regarding education and our state Legislature.

“On the other hand, 12 years is a good length of time.”

Metoyer was elected to the board in 2014.

As for the other trustees on the seven-member board, Judy Franco first joined in 1979, Dana Black has served since 1996 and Walt Davenport since 2006.

Twitter: @AlexandraChan10