(June 20, 2005) -- Mushrooms are kept in the dark and fed manure. Over the past week, LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill has treated LB residents and their elected City Council like fungi.
She concealed the name of her latest choice for LB's air polluting, cost-imposing, infrastructure-eating, risk-creating Harbor Commission until the eleventh hour, in our view a clumsy attempt to squelch legitimate questions about her selection.
Her previous choices for Port potentates have treated LB's policy-setting City Council like serfs on matters of health and safety while escalating taxpayer costs on infrastructure and homeland security.
We believe the Mayor's actions have left Councilmembers with a stark choice: they can either demean themselves by ratifying her conduct or they can redeem the situation by respecting principles that other self-respecting public officials routinely do.
Under the U.S., CA and LB constitutions (LB has a City Charter), elected representatives perform the crucial check and balance function of approving or disapproving major executive appointments. Although the President and the Governor are more powerful than LB's Mayor, they don't expect lawmakers to rubberstamp their appointees. The public and their elected representatives have a right to know who their nominees are -- not just by reputation and resume but by record and real-world views -- before voting to empower them.
Councilmembers have a check and balance duty to question nominees publicly -- private assurances are publicly meaningless -- before giving appointees the power to affect their constituents.
For too long, LB's check and balance process has not operated properly. LB's lawmakers (Councilmembers) have too often let the Mayor usurp power that Councilmembers have -- and she doesn't -- to decide who sits on powerful city bodies. A few years ago, Councilmembers did refuse to reappoint now-former Harbor Commissioner George Murchison, but we doubt most people can recall details of the internecine squabbling that led to it. This time however, due mainly to the Mayor's previous Port choices, the issues now -- including LNG, homeland security and whether LB's Port should encourage expansion even if it worsens pollution -- are as large as any that have ever faced LB's City Council.
For Mayor O'Neill and her enablers to think they could squelch legitimate discussion of these issues on her latest Port nominee shows they really don't get it.
Under LB's 1980s-era City Charter, Harbor Commissioners wield Czar-like powers with terms exceeding Councilmembers, not subject to public recall or Council veto. At the same time, they consume public resources, impose taxpayer costs and without Council consent approve operations that can put public health, safety and security at risk.
The Mayor asked the Council's Personnel and Civil Service Committee to meet to consider her nominees to various Commissions, including the Harbor post...but she didn't release the names.
She concealed them until June 13 -- the day before the Committee was scheduled to meet -- while she was nearly 2,000 miles away in Chicago. On June 13, a letter -- signed by the Mayor but obviously prepared in advance -- was transmitted to Committee chair Dan Baker, listing her nominees.
This maneuver effectively prevented print news outlets from publishing the names until June 14, the day of the Committee meeting. (For some reason, the Press-Telegram didn't report the names until June 15. after the Committee had already voted.)
LBReport.com reported the name of the Harbor Commission nominee online late in the afternoon on June 13, before the Committee meeting.
On June 14, LBReport.com attended the Committee meeting. As best we could tell, the Harbor nominee wasn't present. (If he was, we didn't see him.) In other words, the Committee couldn't have asked him any questions even if it wanted to.
On arrival, we read the public meeting agenda and its attached materials. It didn't list the names of the Mayor's appointees -- which was the agendized subject of the public meeting.
Shortly after 2 p.m., Committee members Baker and Colonna entered (Richardson was absent). Committee chair Baker called the meeting to order. He read aloud the names of the Mayor's nominees, the first time the entire list was heard publicly. People in the Council Chamber but not beyond heard it.
A few seconds later, the Committee voted 2-0 to refer the entire list of nominees to the Council for a deciding vote on June 21.
If there were any checks and balances in this barely public process, we fail to discern them.
Fortunately, the process isn't over...and actually now moves to prime time. The Committee vote advanced the names to the full City Council for consideration on Tuesday June 21.
Under the circumstances, Councilmembers simply can't conduct the public's business in the way it was done in the past: puffy introductions as the Mayor's choices rise for applause after being rubberstamped into power.
LB residents have every right to expect that Councilmembers they elect -- who have three times publicly voted to endorse legislation directing that Port growth not worsen airborne toxics -- will summon the Mayor's Harbor nominee to the podium for businesslike, serious questions...and responsive answers.
This is the check and balance procedure that LB residents have a right to expect.
It's possible that the Mayor and others likeminded may whine that this isn't the way things were done in the past.
More about the Mayor's Harbor Commission nominee separately.