(January 14, 2007) -- LB Councilmembers are scheduled at their January 16 meeting -- which begins at a special 4:30 p.m. start time -- to discuss and possibly vote on whether to put on a special May 1 citywide ballot several proposed changes to LB's City Charter (the city's constitution).
The items, detailed below, range from giving the Mayor greater veto authority, easing term limits for Council incumbents (three terms instead of two)...and creating a City Hall Commission to set Council compensation (which could raise Council pay).
Each item would require a majority Council vote for placement on the ballot...where LB voters will have the last word.
To view the items, click here
Additionally at the January 16 Council meeting, Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga has separately agendized transmittal of an item advanced on Jan. 10 during public comment by the Teachers Ass'n, proposing to create an Office of Inspector General (modeled after LAUSD) to oversee spending by LBUSD. To view the proposed text, click here.
The LBUSD-related item would presumably have to go first to the Council's Charter Amendment Committee (comprised of the Mayor and all Councilmembers) and receive an affirmative Committee vote before coming back to the Council.
The Council's deadline for putting Charter Amendments on a special citywide May 1, 2007 election ballot is the end of January.
Proponents of the Charter changes favor holding a special citywide election, at an acknowledged taxpayer cost, to coincide with a special 6th Council district election required to choose the successor to former Councilwoman, now-Assemblywoman, Laura Richardson.
The Charter Amendment items now being forwarded for Council discussion and possible placement on the ballot cap several months of public meetings held across the city and at City Hall, soliciting public and Council comment on possible changes to LB city government.
Some items proposed by some members of the public and/or Councilmembers were not advanced...including giving the public the right to elect and/or recall Harbor Commissioners. Likewise not advancing was a proposal to guarantee LB taxpayers a legally binding minimum per capita level of police officers tied to the city's population) [supported by LBReport.com's publisher].
However Mayor Bob Foster dropped a bombshell at his January 9 State of the City message...by announcing that he will ask the City Council and City Management to work with him to find money to fund an additional 100 police officers in the 2008 fiscal year (which begins Oct. 1, 2007). With a Mayoral line item budget veto (proposed in one of the Charter changes), that Mayoral suggestion could carry greater weight [giving the Mayor the power to excise spending items, requiring a 2/3 Council override to restore].
In a specially called Sunday Jan. 7 afternoon Charter Amendment Committee meeting that lasted over four and a half hours, six Committee members [Schipske, Reyes Uranga absent; 6th district vacant] voted to forward several proposals to the full Council which will be discussed on Jan. 16. The Council could decide at that time, or any time before the end of January, whether LB voters should approve measures to:
- Create a City Hall selected "Compensation Commission" to set Councilmembers' salaries (similar to the system under which state and federal lawmakers have received raises without casting votes) [5-1, Delong dissenting]. The proposal effectively invites Council pay raises (carrying increased taxpayer pension costs) while sidestepping whether to designate the City Council position as "full time" or "part time" [the Charter is silent on this now]. As currently proposed, the "Compensation Commission" would consist of individuals chosen by City Hall's four citywide elected officials (Mayor, City Att'y, City Prosecutor & City Auditor).
- Reduce LB term limits, letting current and future incumbents serve three terms (instead of two) and letting a write-in candidate who finishes first or second in a primary have his/her name printed on the runoff ballot [5-1, DeLong dissenting]
- Give the Mayor a line-item veto over budget items subject to a veto override by six Councilmembers [5-1, DeLong dissenting]. During the discussion, former LB Harbor Commissioner [mid-1991 to mid-2003] Roy Hearrean cautioned that vetoing some items might interfere with contractual obligations, possibly creating litigation exposure; Mayor Foster replied that the veto would likely be rarely used and would in any case be subject to Council override.
- Give the Mayor a role in hiring the City Manager [the Council now does this exclusively], with six Council votes necessary to override a Mayoral veto on hiring a City Manager [6-0]
- Give the City Council explicit investigatory authority [which City Attorney Bob Shannon opined that the Council likely implicitly already has], including the power to issue administrative subpoenas;
- Allow the Council to remove members of City Commissions for any reason on a majority vote of Councilmembers;
- Change the terms for the Harbor Commission (now two six-year terms) and Water Commission (now two five-year terms) to three four-year terms (paralleling Council terms). Former Harbor Commissioner Hearrean opposed the change regarding Harbor Commissioners...at one point arguing that if the Council put it on the ballot, he and the "Long Beach business community" would oppose it.
- Put a "Parks in Perpetuity" measure into the City Charter, limiting the Council's ability to use park land for non-park purposes.
The draft text of these measures can be viewed by clicking here.
Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal and 2nd district Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal (who represent Port impacted areas) declined to support (and Vice Mayor Lowenthal publicly argued against) a proposal by 8th district Councilwoman Rae Gabelich to give the public the right to appeal Environmental Impact Reports on Port projects to the City Council for a full hearing. (Currently, the public has the ability to appeal Port EIR's to the Council...but the Council can only review the EIR for sufficiency...and then only refer it back to LB's currently non-elected, non-recallable Harbor Commission.
Putting Councilwoman Gabelich's EIR measure on the ballot was supported by 2nd district resident Bry Myown and opposed by former Harbor Commissioner Hearrean.
Mayor Foster argued that the Council already has considerable power through its budget approval process, and this view was echoed by Vice Mayor Lowenthal. City Attorney Bob Shannon [who represents both the Harbor Dept. and City Hall] said Councilwoman Gabelich's proposal also required more time and guidance than he could immediately provide since the current Charter gives the Harbor Dept. exclusive jurisdiction in the Harbor District.
Councilwoman Gabelich pressed the point...and asked that Ms. Myown be allowed to return to the podium to offer suggestions (something Mayor Foster let former Harbor Commissioner Hearrean do). However, Mayor Foster ruled further testimony from Ms. Myown out of order...and suggested that instead of a substantive Charter amendment [which would give the public appeal rights], an advisory resolution from the City Council [available to Councilmembers, not the public] to advise Harbor Commissioners of the Council's view might be sufficient [which the Council can do now and the Harbor Commission can legally disregard].
Mayor Foster indicated that the Sunday afternoon session was called in part to accommodate Cal State Fullerton Political Science Professor Raphael Sonnenshein who participated in a previous Charter Amendment session (held at an ELB school site) during which he was allowed to address the Council from on-stage...and at the Jan. 7 meeting, Prof. Sonnenshein took his place in a city staff position behind the rail. From that spot, Prof. Sonnenshein helped steer Council discussion.
At one point, in discussing a measure to give the Council explicit investigatory powers (including administrative subpoenas), the professor suggested that voters generally respond positively to measures that provide for oversight. City Attorney Bob Shannon subsequently noted that the Council likely already has the implied authority to conduct investigations without the Charter change...and Councilman Gary DeLong wondered if the Council was trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist. The measure was advanced at an earlier meeting by 5th district Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske, who was repeatedly argued in favor of it [although she was in DC during the Jan. 7 meeting.]
Mayor Foster supported the measure explicitly giving the Council investigatory authority, mentioning his Sacramento experience when state lawmakers wanted to examine operations of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. The Committee opted to advance the investigatory measure on a 4-2 vote (DeLong & Lerch dissenting)
Prof. Sonnenshein also suggested changing current Charter language which limits the removal of members of City Commissions only for specified "cause" [reasons tightly limited]. Mayor Foster recommended that this be carefully considered. Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal indicated she believes there is a desire to expand the grounds for removing a Commission member beyond misfeasance...and the Council voted (6-0) to advance a measure to let the Mayor, with 2/3 concurrence of the Council, remove a Commission member for any reason.
Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal indicated on Jan. 7, and followed up on January 9, that she strongly favors a measure creating a City Hall "Office of Ethics"...and that item is also up for possible Council placement on the ballot.