Council Votes 8-0 To Approve Mayor's Choice Of Mike Walter For Harbor Comm'n; We Post Extended Excerpts
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(June 22, 2005) -- The City Council voted 8-0 (Reyes Uranga absent) on June 21 to approve Mayor Beverly O'Neill's latest choice for LB's Board of Harbor Commissioners: Mike Walter, Ph.D., former LB Area Chamber of Commerce Board chair and CSULB Dean Emeritus/College of Business Administration and Ass't to CSULB's President for Community Relations.
The Council was undeterred by the fact that Dr. Walter will be unable to vote until June 2006 on whether to allow on Port property a proposed 80+ million gallon Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility, roughly two miles from downtown LB..
On June 15, citing a public record document which Dr. Walter properly filed with the City Clerk's office in connection with his position on LB's Water Commission, LBReport.com reported that Dr. Walter owned stock worth between $100,001-$1,000,000 in 2004 in ConocoPhillips...a subsidiary of which has entered into a development agreement with the Mitsubishi subsidiary seeking to build and operate the LNG facility in the Port. We also reported that Dr. Walter's disclosure form indicated that he owned stock worth between $10,001-$100,000 in 2004 in BP, a Port of LB tenant.
The Press Telegram thereafter reported that Dr. Walter said he had divested himself of the stock in a philanthropic manner. City Attorney Shannon also informed the Press-Telegram and confirmed to LBReport.com that despite divesting himself of the stock, Dr. Walter would be unable to vote on the LNG matter until June 2006, one year from receiving his last Conoco divided.
Mayor O'Neill did not withdraw her nomination of Dr. Walter, and Dr. Walter did not withdraw his name from consideration.
Councilman Dan Baker, as chair of the Council's Personnel & Civil Service Committee (which approved all of the Mayor's nominees on June 14 meeting in less than 90 seconds without any questions) moved approval of all of the Mayor's nominees at the City Council meeting.
Councilwoman Rae Gabelich asked for the floor, saying she wished to congratulate Dr. Walter but "also would like to ask you a couple of questions if that would be an appropriate time to do that."
Mayor O'Neill said, "It's not inappropriate, but we did have a meeting of the [Council] the Personnel and Civil Service Commission to question the candidates at the time and all Councilmembers were invited if they wanted to." The following colloquy ensued [our transcript below is unofficial, prepared by us.]
Councilwoman Gabelich: I don't want to make a big deal out of this. I just have a couple of questions.
Mayor O'Neill: That's fine.
Councilwoman Gabelich: Really based on, and Mike you know I think you're just the greatest so, if that's OK. [Dr. Walter comes to podium] You know we have a lot of controversy sometimes over some of the items that are before the Harbor Commission. And there's been a lot of press on the whole process and I think you have been a true gentleman and an incredible citizen of this city for the moves that you've made to resolve some of those concerns. I think we as a Council have worked really hard over the last year to improve the relationship with the Harbor Commission and I hope we will continue to do that. But I'd like to ask you just a couple of questions, really, and this is for the community. I know Mike as a person and I'm sure that, [pauses] let me just ask the questions.
Where would you strike a balance between growing the port and protecting our health, environment, transportation corridors and quality of life?
Dr. Walter: Well I'd certainly place safety as the number one issue, and then I would follow that up, I think, with environmental concerns and issues.
Councilwoman Gabelich: And how, Mike, would you work to improve communication between the Council and the Harbor Commission?
Dr. Walter: That's a very difficult question [chuckles] but I think it's a challenging one. I do think that we can work together very well for the benefit of all the residents in the city. I cannot conceive of a scenario that I would be at variance with the opinion of the Council.
Councilwoman Gabelich: I think you'll be a good bridge in that direction, so I thank you.
The Mayor asked if members of the public wished to speak. LB activist Bry Myown came to the podium and said in pertinent part:
Ms. Myown:: ...[I]n the event anyone reading the newspaper story, passive voice, that said it had been discovered there was a conflict of interest, I want to make sure that no one should mistake that for any part or parcel of this system functioning properly.
Other than the fact that Mr. Walter disclosed on his form 700 as he should for the Water Commission...this was discovered by the alternative media, LongBeachReport.com, that's why we know about it now.
Now, this is not about Mr. Walter at all, but I cannot imagine why you would want to appoint someone that the City Attorney has told you cannot vote on what many of us think is going to be the most important issue facing this harbor in the next year.
I cannot imagine that you would want to be influenced by a philanthropic gesture, as nice as it is, because the public perception is that you might as well all name your pet charities and you'll appoint Commissioners...
Councilwoman Richardson: Point of order, Madame Mayor.
Mayor O'Neill: I think you are demeaning this action.
Ms. Myown: This is about the process. It is not about this candidate, Madame Mayor.
Mayor O'Neill: It's about the candidate.
Ms. Myown: I beg your pardon, it is not.
Mayor O'Neill: You are talking about a specific person.
Ms. Myown: I am saying what the public process of the action of this Council will be knowing that there is a matter on record [City Attorney Shannon can be seen on camera walking to the Mayor, saying something quickly to her off mike] that the [City] Attorney has said this candidate cannot vote on and I am talking about the participation in a process that allowed things to get to this point.
Mayor O'Neill: And I appreciate your point and you've made it, thank you.
Ms. Myown: Well I still have the green [speaker's] light on.
Mayor O'Neill: ...see what you have to say then.
Ms. Myown: Pardon?
Mayor O'Neill: We'll listen to what you have to say if you are not speaking about a person.
Ms. Myown: I am not speaking about the candidate. I am speaking about the process...
...The question that the public has for you is what sorts of direction are you willing and able to take over the process? In the last year you have thought that you were willing and able, on various occasions, to agendize consideration of a Charter Amendment to restrain lobbying against yours, consideration of approval of their budget, consideration a year ago of an MOU about LNG, and consideration several months ago about an L.A. style [not net increase in air pollution] task force.
Those are things that were all agendized and mysteriously withdrawn.
So the question the public has for you, in between washing your hands and wringing your hands about no control, how can we have a legitimate process where we see what direction these two bodies are willing to take together.
Three speakers then supported Dr. Walter:
- Mike Murray [identifies himself as] President of the Long Beach Education Foundation: "I followed Mike as chairman of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and served with him on the Board of Directors of Leadership Long Beach...His leadership is based on fairness...and it's my experience that he makes informed decisions when he's sure he has all the pertinent information available and not until then..."
- Brian Gimmillaro, Women's Volleyball Coach, CSULB: "[N]ow a chance to see Mike being such an important person and playing such an important role is very important to me..."
- Helen Hansen, member of LB Water Commission: "He has given us outstanding leadership and he has contributed so much to our decisionmaking process...because when Mike Walter makes a decision, there's a common element regardless of the topic...and that common element in every decision that I have witnessed him to make is will this decision contribute in a positive way to our ratepayers first, which is synonymous with the well-being of the City of Long Beach..."
LB activist Ann Cantrell then came to the podium, again raising the issue of Dr. Walter's inability for nearly a year to vote on the proposed Port LNG facility. "As much as all these people have said that he is a gentleman and would make a good Commissioner, I'm wondering how this is going to affect the vote on the LNG if it comes up before next June...I would think this would be a consideration for you to think about."
Council comments followed:
- Councilman Dan Baker: ...I'm happy to support Mr. Walter's appointment tonight. I found him to be always a very conscientious and caring individual and I know his heart is going to be really into this.
I also did however want to touch on the procedural issue that was at stake just a few minutes ago. I believe there might have been an error spoken on the point that was made. We are dealing with the appointment of an individual to a city post. I think it's entirely appropriate to be able to debate the merits of this appointment. So if there are community members who wanted to make s point pro or con on that, I think it's very appropriate to make a very pointed point on that. (Mayor O'Neill responded, "I agree with you. I just don't think personal attacks or personal statements are necessary in that."
- Councilwoman Laura Richardson: ...I could hardly think of a better candidate that we have before us than Mr. Walter to assist us in making sound fiscal and economic decisions for this city.
I personally am really embarrassed by some of the comments that were made. And the reason why I'm embarrassed is the insinuation, I think for the record we need to clarify a few things.
Mr. Walters' original submission for the Harbor Commission was made prior to the kindness that he demonstrated to Cal State Long Beach. I believe originally when he submitted his application, it was well over two years ago when we had a prior appointment. So to allude that this Council, or any governing body would be suggesting this gentleman for this assignment other than his pure qualifications I think is very misleading and inappropriate.
Finally, comments tonight to me really discourages good people from doing the right thing of supporting their community and also being in public service. A lot of people will say, why do you even want to get into it if people aren't going to respect and honor the tremendous work and kindness that this man has had.
So I look forward to his recommendation. I was fully supportive of it several years ago, and I think he'll be a tremendous asset to our Harbor Commission.
- Councilman Lerch: Everything I've ever seen this man do from his heart has been for the betterment of this city.
- Councilman Patrick O'Donnell:...I think personal statements are fine. We've all made them, and I would make one. I think Mike Walter is a great guy..."
- Vice Mayor Jackie Kell: When we think of Mike Walter, we think of a gentleman and a scholar. Mike, you represent excellence, and it's a pleasure for me to vote for you and call you Harbor Commissioner Walter.
- Councilman Frank Colonna: I too want to congratulate Mike, and I'm sure that the vote is going to go the way it should. And welcome, Mike, because I think you're going to make an enormous contribution from your own background, experience, education and business management experience, and working with the Port to make sure that we get the right things going from the Port, and continue with developing a better partnership that what sometimes has been occurring in the past.
- Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal: I certainly echo the commendations that I've heard from my colleagues tonight and the audience about Mike Walter...
...I think it is important that we have a process that allows us to review the Form 700's that have been filled out in the past by applicants. We need to make sure as we review the applicant's history that there are no conflicts of interest, so that part really to me was a very valid point.
I am very supportive of Mike. I think he'll do a great job. His focus, his lifelong focus, has been international business, and the Port will be lucky to have him.
- Councilwoman Gabelich: I too just want to comment that I think the concern from the public is about the process. It's certainly not about the individual, and I think there's a lot of fear and concern about what's going to happen when the LNG finally does come back, and so we just hope that maybe that doesn't happen until June .
The Council vote to approve all the Mayor's nominees to Charter Commissions (including Dr. Walter for Harbor Commission) was 8-0.
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