This article first appeared in the Sacramento Bee

When I read about the Think Long Committee’s proposal for a “Civic Council for Government Accountability,” the first image that jumped into my mind was the Ruling Council in the Christopher Reeves’ “Superman” movie, sitting as elders while their world collapsed around them. That image was quickly replaced by the perhaps more appropriate image of the infamous “Committee of 25,” an elite group of power brokers that served as a shadow government for the city of Los Angeles in the 1940s and ’50s.

As described in the Think Long Committee’s blueprint for changing governance in California, the civic council would be an independent, impartial and nonpartisan body that would establish and develop a vision encompassing long-term goals for California’s future.

As designed, it will certainly be less than impartial and nonpartisan. However, the worst of the plan is that the civic council would be given extraordinary, king-like powers that exceed the powers of legislators, the governor and ordinary citizens.

The appointment process for membership on the council will not eliminate politics from governance but may well enhance it.

The 13-member body would be appointed by the governor (nine appointments, two from other than the majority parties); the Senate Rules Committee (two appointments, one each from the state’s majority parties); and the Speaker of the Assembly (two appointments, one each from the state’s majority parties.)

Given the political makeup of the state, that means the majority party will make all the appointments with the potential of creating a one-sided super majority from their party running the council. Will the committee truly be nonpartisan and impartial? Hardly.

The 13-member council can put initiatives on the ballot by majority vote; two-thirds vote if the initiative is a constitutional amendment. That means that in the case of statutes, seven Californians can put a measure on the ballot to solve any problem that they perceive needs a fix, nine members if a constitutional amendment is required. The council could also offer an alternative measure to an initiative put on the ballot by the people.

Think of the difference in approaches for putting measures on the ballot. The Legislature requires a two-thirds vote of the entire elected body to put a measure on the ballot. Initiative proponents must gather hundreds of thousands of signatures from their fellow citizens, and often in the process raise millions of dollars to accomplish this end. But for the Think Long citizens council, a Magnificent Seven can get together one afternoon after all the sweat and effort have been successfully concluded by initiative proponents and by a show of hands put a countermeasure on the ballot.

Under the plan, these unelected “super citizens” would have other governing powers. They would have the right to put comments into the ballot book on any initiative. They would enjoy subpoena power to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents. The blueprint calls for the citizens council to “coordinate” with current authorities on many important issues already dealt with by the Legislature, such as water, energy and transportation.

The Civic Council for Government Accountability will be unelected. Members can be removed from office in which they serve two six-year terms only for malfeasance or corruption as confirmed by a two-thirds vote of the state Senate.

Thus, members of the council on government accountability are accountable to nobody.

In the end, the plan may not even be constitutional. The Think Long Committee proposes to create the Civic Council by initiative. The California Constitution forbids an initiative to revise the constitution, only to amend it.

Changing the government structure so that the Citizens Council is added as another layer of governance very likely is a constitutional revision.

There are some good and not-so-good ideas in the Think Long Committee’s proposals. However, the Civic Council for Government Accountability is a bad scheme. It attacks the very core idea of our government that comprises We the People.