Procedural Irregularities, Substantive Omissions And Emerging Non-Public Process Mark First Hearing On Mayor-Proposed Nov. 2018 Special Election Charter Amendments
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(June 13, 2018, 12:20 p.m.) -- On June 12, the City Council (convened as a joint meeting of the Council and its Charter Amendment Committee) held the first of two state law-required hearings on five proposed City Charter changes that could permanently affect the future political landscape of Long Beach. (Previous LBREPORT.com coverage here, here, here and here). The joint meeting, which lasted just over an hour, was marked by a number of procedural irregularities, substantive omissions and an emerging non-public process.
Of the five items agendized by Mayor Robert Garcia:
[Scroll down for further]
Three of the items -- including a proposed change to LB's voter-approved term limits law that would let LB's incumbent Mayor and Councilmembers seek up to 12 full years without requiring a write-in bypass after eight years -- were never referred to the Charter Amendment Committee by voted action of the City Council. Circumventing that step effectively prevented the public from speaking pro or con on whether to advance items, including the term limits change, for Charter Amendment discussion before Garcia advanced it (which he did after he was re-elected with a Council majority in the April-June election cycle.)
As previously reported by LBREPORT.com, in May 2007 LB voters rejected a 12 year change by an over 2/3 margin when bundled with other items. Neither Mayor Garcia nor any Councilmember(s) mentioned this during June 12 Council discussion.
Two of the items, a proposed "ethics commission" and a "redistricting commission," were the subject of a November 7, 2017 Council voted action that asked the Mayor to convene the Charter Amendment Committee within 60-90 days and asked the City Clerk and City Attorney "to develop framework options for the Committee to consider" (carried 7-0, Uranga, Andrews absent.) The Council-specified 60-90 day deadline came and went until after incumbents were re-elected and City Charter amendment Measure M had passed. Instead of "framework options" for Council and public discussion, the only draft text visible for the June 12 Council session was a Garcia-proposed draft.
The Garcia-proposed ethics commission and redistricting commission draft proposes to let the Mayor choose the Commission's members with Council approval (and likewise remove them for any reason with Council approval.) No other "framework options" were publicly available or discussed June 12, which might have included a publicly elected ethics commission and redistricting commission (the latter with more than "advisory" powers as recommended by Garcia.)
When pressed by LB attorney Marc Coleman (who raised several issues in public testimony), Mayor Garcia sought to neutralize the criticism by saying he agreed with some of Coleman's points and [paraphrase] indicated the issues would be addressed in the future...but didn't say how, when or by whom, or whether it would occur in public view or non-transparently in some City Hall office meeting before coming back to the Council. At another point in the Council session, Garcia said the drafts were intentionally vague so they could be modified, but again didn't say how, when or by whom or under what circumstances.
Regarding a proposed Redistricting Commission -- which Garcia's draft proposed to make a non-elected "advisory only" body with members chosen by the Mayor -- Garcia said (in response to public objections) that he prefers the type of system used by the state (with various levels of approval needed for commission membership, implying those issues would be addressed in some type revision process he didn't describe. The outcome of LB's next Council Redistricting could have significant future election impacts if it were to re-draw some Council district lines to reflect ethnic demographic continuity.
Mayor Garcia declared at the outset of the meeting that the process would be to "receive and file" -- take no action on -- his five agendized items. But the Mayor has no power to make motions; only Councilmembers do and the Mayor has no vote (only a veto that six Councilmembers can override.) By portraying the process as not including June 12 Council-driven revisions to his drafts (which a Council majority had the right to make), Garcia deterred publicly offered alternatives. Austin, seconded by Richardson, made the Garcia-desired "receive and file" motion with no publicly offered changes and set the date of the next hearing for July; no Councilmembers offered alternative motions.
Despite five separately agendized item, Mayor Garcia only allowed public speakers three minutes each (amounting to thirty seconds on each item if anyone sought to discuss all five items.) Any Councilmember could have objected to this, and on a Council vote could have overruled the Mayor on this point. None did.
Since the June 12 Austin-Richardson motion was to "receive and file" without making any revisions, any changes between now and the next Council hearing in July would presumably occur outside of public view in some type of non-public process with the Mayor (who has no vote), persons unknown and only later brought forward for public comment and Council approval.
City Auditor Laura Doud acknowledged that the sole Charter Amendment that pertains to her office might be unnecessary because she may already have the authority sought under the measure. However, as the first speaker invited by Mayor Garcia, Doud effusively praised the other Garcia-proposed drafts on term limits, ethics and redistricting commissions, although these are fundamentally political policy decisions outside the scope of the City Auditor's duties on reviewing financial matters, books and accounts. Prior to the hearing, Auditor Doud signaled her supportive stance on the measures by co-signing a May 31 letter with Garcia included in the agenda package.
Despite what is supposed to be her financial focus, Auditor Doud didn't mention (nor did any Councilmembers) the estimated LB taxpayer cost of calling a special November 2018 citywide election on the items. As previously reported by LBREPORT.com, City Clerk Monique de la Garza says the estimated cost for putting one measure on the November ballot would be roughly $470,000, and that sum would increase by $45,000 for each additional measure. In other words, it would cost LB taxpayers $650,000 if the Council calls a November 2018 special election for all five of the Charter Amendments sought by Garcia.
Auditor Doud described LB's current term limits law as containing a "loophole" by allowing an incumbent to continue to run using a write-in bypass procedure, but it's a loophole that's never been used for terms beyond 12 years since LB term limits were enacted. What Doud didn't mention is that the Garcia-written term limits measure could immediately benefit all Council incumbents and the incumbent Mayor...and Doud entirely avoided mentioning LB voter rejection (by a more than 2/3 margin) of a 12 year term limit measure in 2007.
Auditor Doud's support for the four non-Auditor related items effectively provided Garcia with political cover against objections to aspects of some of Garcia's proposals. Ms. Doud regularly contends that because she's independently elected [she had no opponents in the April-June 2018 election cycle] that she's therefore independent of the Mayor and Council.
A southern CA organizer for the (self-described) non-partisan advocacy group Common Cause spoke immediately after City Auditor Doud, and offered effusive praise for the Garcia-advanced drafts...before any public testimony was heard.
Some public speakers praised the proposed measures while opponents of the draft texts included representatives of the Cambodian community [who said they couldn't support the draft as written and urged changes to end Council district line gerrymandering that had split their community], ELB Neighborhoods First leader Joe Sopo [objected to 12 year term limits], LB attorney Marc Coleman [objected to substance and process], LB Taxpayers Ass'n co-founder Tom Stout and LB Taxpayers Ass'n volunteer Carolyn Byrnes.