' Here's How Long Beach Residents Lost The Law That Required City Council To Hold Nine Meetings Per Year In Council Districts And How/Why It Can/Should Return Without Taxpayer Cost

Amnesia File / Editorial

Here's How Long Beach Residents Lost The Law That Required City Council To Hold Nine Meetings Per Year In Council Districts And How/Why It Can/Should Return Without Taxpayer Cost

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(Aug. 22, 2017, 11:05 a.m.) -- On Aug. 16, LBREPORT.com reported that tonight's (Aug. 22) Council meeting will be held at McBride High School (7025 E. Parkcrest St., 5:00 p.m.) in the 5th Council district. Our story accurately noted that "for many years, LB Council meetings were routinely held at locations in each of LB's nine Council districts (rotated among them for nine months of the year) until a previous Council (with support from then 5th dist. Councilwoman Jackie Kell) ended the practice over ten years ago." We also accurately noted that "At the time, Councilmembers said the reason for ending the practice was to conserve costs; others speculated it was basically a way to give Councilmembers a week off each month."

On Aug. 20, the PressTelegram published a story giving its explanation for the Aug. 22 meeting in the 5th Council district, telling its readers in part:

The process stems back to a practice engaged by a former council in the 1980s and early 90s, [City Attorney] Parkin said, that was largely an opportunity for elected officials to give out awards and recognition to people in their districts. He said he doesn't recall seeing a big spike in attendance as a result.

Neither of the former mayors -- Beverly O'Neill, whose tenure spanned 1994 to 2006, and Bob Foster, who served from 2006 to 2014 -- could recall ever taking a City Council meeting outside of City Hall.

The PT story went on to attribute to move to cost considerations.

Here's the record on how LB residents lost their Council meetings in Council districts, why the Council should restore the practice and how it can do so without costing taxpayer dollars.

[Scroll down for further.]

For many years, LB's Council-enacted Municipal Code required LB's nine-member City Council to hold at least one meeting per year in each of their respective Council districts (i.e. nine per year.) A Council-enacted Municipal Code ordinance prescribed the rotation of those meetings and their Council districts. See it yourself in Ordinance C-7594 (March 3, 1999) that we've posted at this link.

This 1999 ordinance version was the final time (after many previous versions) that included a requirement that Long Beach Councilmembers must hold one Council meeting per year in Council districts on the fourth Tuesday of each specified month.

In 2002, then-Mayor Beverly O'Neill won a write-in campaign for a third term in office after her supporters assured voters that the city was "on the right track." In early and mid-July, a few weeks after O'Neill was safely re-elected, a proposed ordinance change (requiring two Council votes) appeared on the agendas of the last meeting for an outgoing Council and first meeting of an incoming Council (when public attention would be focused on ceremonies, not substance.) In those two fateful and costly Council votes, Councilmembers voted without dissent to approve a now-notorious "pension spike" (pension increase) that now continues to drain sizable sums from LB taxpayers.

A few weeks after the Council's pension spike votes, Mayor O'Neill held a City Hall press event to announce that the city was facing the worst fiscal crisis in its recent history that would require three years of fiscal austerity to span. [Those who had assured voters that the city had been "on the right track" went on to opine on other civic matters.]

On April 8, 2003, then-5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell agendized an item requesting that the City Council "immediately defer having any off site City Council meetings until such time as there is a balanced budget and that the cost of having such meetings is offset by the inherent benefit to the communities represented." Councilwoman Kell also simultaneously agendized an item that the Council immediately cancel the last regularly scheduled meeting of each month"...meaning the Council wouldn't have to meet anywhere -- in the Council district or at City Hall -- effectively giving Councilmembers a week off.

The ordinance changes were enacted in the subsequent two weeks.

If cost was the reason for what the Council did in 2003, it shouldn't be now...because Councilmembers have since TRIPLED the amount they and the Mayor can collect annually in their "officeholder" accounts (Council actions Jan-Feb. 2015.) Those contributor donated sums, not taxpayer dolalrs, can and should be used to cover the cost of restoring district Council meetings on the previous schedule.

Those Council district meetings had real benefits. They required all Councilmembers to face and hear from their constituents, and other nearby taxpayers, up close and personal at least once and year. They required all Councilmembers to travel to districts they don't represent to see what conditions really are impacted by their votes. And contrary to the recollection of some now among City Hall officialdom, our recollection is that the Council meetings held in Council districts were VERY well attended.

Yes, some then-incumbents used district meetings to spoon out all kinds of awards to residents and pose for pictures, which the Council still does twice in each Council meeting as well as in other venues. The net effect of what's happened is that LB taxpayers no longer have the opportunity to see and interact with the full Council in their neighborhood AND LB taxpayers have one fewer opportunity each month to have their elected officials conduct the public's business. That includes THIS month (Aug. 2017) when the Council SHOULD be meeting next week to address budget issues including (among other things) the management-proposed Mayor-recommended FY18 budget's failure to restore any further police for taxpayers, or restore fire engine 17 to fire station 17, and multiple other budget issues.

Instead, tonight's Aug. 22 Council meeting will be the LAST Council meeting before Councilmembers likely begin voting on the FY18 budget on Sept. 5 and perhaps Sept. 12. That's because of the 2003 ordinance changes went beyond eliminating the district Council meeting and also eliminated the last Council meeting of each month. And for the record, Councilmembers didn't take a 25% pay cut when they cut the time each month that they can and should be conducting the public's business.

If Councilmembers really want to increase public engagement, we have just offered a constructive, budget-sustainable way to do so. LBREPORT.com urges at least one Councilmember to propose that he/she and their Council colleagues and the Mayor use their "officeholder accounts" to restore those district meetings and conduct the public's on the last Tuesday of each month.

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