Council OK's For Ballot Proposed City Charter Changes That Could Create "Salary Comm'n" (Which Could Raise Council Pay Without Council Vote), Ease Term Limits For Incumbents & Give Mayor Line Item Budget Veto; Council Declines To Pursue Creating Inspector General Over LBUSD
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(January 16, 2007) -- LB Councilmembers tonight (Jan. 16) approved a series of measures for submission to voters on a special citywide election ballot, potentially as soon as early May 2007. The text of some of the measures was changed from the items as agendized and exact text isn't immediately available (we'll post it when it is) but the items approved by the Council for voter approval or rejection would:
- Create a nine-member "Independent Salary Commission" (chosen by the Mayor, City Atty, City Prosecutor & City Auditor) who'd be given the power to raise Councilmembers' pay...without the necessity of the action returning for a public vote by Councilmembers whose pay would be raised.
The Council-approved text provides that Commission set a monthly Council salary that "takes into account the nature of the duties of the office and which is commensurate with salaries then being paid for other public positions having similar duties, responsibilities and obligations." Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal made an effort to include verbiage comparing salaries to public and private sector positions but dropped the idea when Mayor Bob Foster said public sector comparisons seemed more appropriate.
As drafted by City Attorney Bob Shannon, the Commission's salary recommendation would have returned to the Council for a public vote...but Vice Mayor Lowenthal urged that the newly-created Commission's decision be binding without further Council action. Her suggestion was incorporated in the final text, which passed 7-1 (DeLong dissenting).
During the discussion, Councilman Patrick O'Donnell said the item shouldn't be viewed as a pay raise measure...since the Commission could recommend loweing Council pay.
- Weaken City Council term limits by giving incumbents three terms, not two, before their name is no longer printed on the ballot (7-1, DeLong dissenting). A related item would let a write-in candidate's name appear on the ballot if he/she finishes first or second in an initial election and qualifies for a runoff (8-0).
- Strengthen the Mayor's veto power by requiring a 2/3 Council vote (six votes instead of the present five) to override a Mayoral veto. The vote was 8-0. "Thank you, Councilmembers," Mayor Foster said after the vote.
- Give the Mayor line-item veto authority over budget items...meaning all budget items now approved the Council (which includes the Harbor Dept. budget). A Mayoral line-item budget item veto could be overridden by the Council...and would require a 2/3 Council vote if voters approve the strengthened Mayor veto item, above). The Council vote was 7-1 (DeLong dissenting)
- Give the Council explicit authority to conduct investigations including administrative subpoena power. The vote was 6-2 (O'Donnell & DeLong dissenting)
- Change Harbor Comm'n and Water Comm'n terms to four year terms, with three terms possible. The vote was 7-1 (Lerch dissenting)
- Let the Mayor remove a member of a Commission at any time with the concurrence of 2/3 of the Council [a change from the text that was agendized]. The vote was 8-0.
- Put a "Parks in Perpetuity" measure in the Charter that would let City Hall take park land -- without a vote of the people -- if it's approved by City Hall's Parks & Recreation Commission and park land "will be" replaced elsewhere on a two for one basis. In dissenting public testimony, Bixby Knolls resident Joe Weinstein commented at the podium that the measure provides no time limit for when that will take place.
The parks measure sent to the ballot by the Council differs from the 2002 recommendation of the Planning Commission which after legnthy public discussions recommended a Charter Amendment giving the public -- not the Council -- the power to approve City Hall attempts to take park land for non park purposes.
- Create a nine-member Redistricting Commission that would redraw Council district lines every ten years (adjusting for new census data). On this item [in contrast to Council pay raises], Vice Mayor Lowenthal wanted recommendations returned to the Council for possible changes. The vote was 6-2 (Uranga and Lerch dissenting)
- Require the City Council to adopt and maintain a "Code of Ethics" including "reporting and registration requirements for local gov't lobbyists who act to influence any governmental action" of City Hall, an item championed by Vice Mayor Lowenthal.
- Vice Mayor Lowenthal urged creating a five-member advisory "Ethics Commission" to make recommendations to the Council on various enumerated items. The vote was 7-1 (DeLong dissenting)
Among items not discussed (with an end-of-January deadline for the May 07 ballot approaching) were proposals to create an elected/recallable Harbor Commission, guarantee taxpayers minimum per capita levels of police staffing [supported by LBReport.com's publisher] and a proposal from "Citizens for Better Long Beach" that sought to create some citywide (not district) City Council positions.
Public speaker Weinstein commented that in his opinion the items being forwarded by the Council seek to run the city like a "closely held corporation."
The Council declined to advance an item separately agendized by Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga (proposed a week earlier by a representative of the Teachers Ass'n of LB (TALB)) which sought to create an Office of Inspector General to oversee operations of the LB Unified School District.
Councilwoman Reyes Uranga's motion to refer the item to the Council's Charter Amendment Committee (while acknowledging it might not be in time for the May 07 ballot) failed on a 3-4 vote (Yes: O'Donnell, Reyes Uranga, Gabelich; No: B. Lowenthal, S. Lowenthal, DeLong, Lerch).
Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske recused herself from the discussion (since she is TALB's General Counsel). City Auditor Laura Doud told the Council said her office is supportive of an independent audit function and her office is available to perform that function if asked by the City Council or the LB Board of Education.
City Attorney Bob Shannon said he was consulting with County Counsel and other authorities and wasn't yet in the position to say whether City Hall could impose an audit function on LBUSD or to put the item as proposed on the ballot.
LB School Board President John Meyer said that because of the speed with which the item advanced, it hasn't been formally discussed but some initial questions had arisen. Board President Meyer indicated research is ongoing but preliminary findings indicate the Council doesn't have that authority under the CA constitution to create that position regarding LBUSD. He noted that LAUSD and Inglewood's inspectors are District appointed, not elected (as proposed in LB).
Board president Meyer said LBUSD's budget is already reviewed by the L.A. County Superintendent of Education who reports to the County Board of Supervisors and to Sacramento. He added that LBUSD's Board's meetings are televised, its budgets are posted on LBUSD's website along with an independently conducted audit of the District...and he urged the Council to move cautiously on the issue.
Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal and Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal (both former School Board members) said they couldn't support the item as proposed; Councilwoman S. Lowenthal said she couldn't support the item because it hadn't been properly vetted and awaited legal opinions from the City Attorney. Councilman Gary DeLong said he'd heard concerns in the community about where TALB is headed politically but didn't feel the issue was an appropriate matter for Council action. A TALB rep criticized LBUSD's independent audits for routinely accepting District figures...and three LBUSD teachers testified in support of the Inspector General item citing spending and oversight functions.
The items advanced by the Council will eventually go on a citywide special election ballot...but its exact date isn't yet known. It could be scheduled by the Council at its next meeting (Jan. 23) for as early as May 2007...when an election will be held in the Sixth Council district to fill the unexpired term of former Councilwoman, now Assemblywoman, Laura Richardson.
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