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Newport Beach


Letters to the Editor

Initiative gives too much power to elected mayor

City Councilman Will O’Neill has announced that he is collecting signatures for a voter initiative to make the Mayor of Newport Beach an elected position. However, this initiative does much more than just establish an elected mayor. It establishes an elected mayor with immense power and that is just wrong.

Hidden in the initiative is Section 404(b), which states, “Except as provided in Section 405, the Mayor shall have the sole discretion to set City Council agendas and to change the order of business on the agenda.” Section 405 does allow adding items on the agenda if half of the remaining council members agree, but this is quite a high standard to meet and effectively excludes the rest of the council from readily bringing issues forward. Instead, the initiative will give the mayor near total control of what may be brought in front of the council. If an unpopular issue is to be discussed and a crowd is expected for an agenda item at 8 p.m., the mayor can arbitrarily move the item to an earlier hour and bypass all that pesky input.

Now imagine if the mayor is beholden to special interests. If those special interests do or don’t want something inconvenient to their purposes on the agenda, the mayor can make that happen. As an example, many of us feel that Team Newport’s campaign consultant Dave Ellis exerts that power over his successful candidates. Remember the Museum House condo approved by the City Council over the objections of literally thousands of residents? The developer told me that Mr. Ellis was a consultant on the project because “that is how it is done.”

If a majority of the City Council supported this initiative, they could vote to put it on the ballot, but this has not occurred. Mr. O’Neill’s efforts to gather signatures appears to be a solitary quest unsupported by his fellow council members. Maybe they feel, as I do, that we should not give that much power to one person. The residents of Newport Beach deserve to have their elected City Councilpersons have an equal say in the running of our city. Electing an abnormally powerful mayor is exactly the wrong thing to do and I sincerely hope that citizens think twice before signing this misguided initiative.

Susan Skinner

Newport Beach

Electing our mayor enhances accountability

The basic function of the Newport Beach City Council is setting public policy. The sole ability for the City Council to accomplish this basic function is through agendas set well in advance of a meeting pursuant to “The Brown Act.” In other words, the only way for a Council to actually accomplish its core responsibility is through the meeting agenda. 

But as it currently stands, the Council has delegated that authority to the City Manager. No matter how good a City Manager is (and ours is great), the City Manager is accountable only to the City Council and not directly to the people of the City of Newport Beach.

The Elect Our Mayor initiative would ensure that the power to hold public policy makers accountable rests in the hands of the people. 

As proposed, a directly elected mayor would be able to set the agenda and be directly accountable to both the people and the City Council too. Plus, City Council members themselves could place items on the agenda if three members voted to do so (similar to the current policy). 

If a mayor didn’t want to place an item on the agenda and three other Council Members couldn’t be found to want an item on the agenda, why in the world would that item be worthy of staff time and consideration?

This process is helpfully discussed on the www.ElectOurMayor.com website under the FAQ section. Which is why I was a puzzled when I read Susan Skinner’s comment that the agenda-setting function was “hidden” in the initiative language. It wasn’t even hidden from Will O’Neill’s original op-ed published in the Newport Beach Indy and Stu News Newport

But more to the point, Dr. Skinner’s main concern appears to be that a mayor could move items around on the agenda to avoid frustrated crowds. This may surprise Dr. Skinner, but the mayor currently has the “discretion to change the order of business” as part of our city’s agenda-setting policy. 

Though uncommonly used, the most common use of that discretion is not to avoid crowds, but instead is used to ensure that a crowd doesn’t need to sit through an entire agenda if their item is at the back of the calendar. 

I encourage residents to read more about the Elect Our Mayor petition at the website where concerns are helpfully answered. If you would like to sign up to volunteer or find out where petitions are available to sign, please visit our site for that too: www.electourmayor.com/get-involved.

Noah Blom 

Newport Beach City Council, District 5

Newport Beach

Elected mayor, just a bad idea

An elected mayor? This is just a bad idea, and it is not what is best for Newport Beach; rather, it is what’s best for a few power-hungry individuals. If we could be guaranteed that persons who would run for mayor were completely honest, transparent, had impeccable integrity, and would always be elected by a well-informed citizenry, then I’d be all for it. But what are the chances of that happening now and in the future? And why would the people of Newport Beach change our City Charter to support something that is riddled with so many potential problems?

Take for instance that section of this proposal that gives the elected mayor sole discretion on the agenda for each council meeting, and to change the order of business on the agenda at his/her discretion. And consider how difficult it would be for a particular council member to get an item on the agenda that has been asked for by his/her constituents with the requirement that half of the council must agree to agendize. This clearly shoots holes in the concept of “representation.” 

Eight years is just too long, as well. And when you add to this the ability to have complete control over each council meeting agenda…you are giving absolute power to the mayor. Look to neighboring cities to see how well that has worked out! It just isn’t necessary. There is nothing wrong with our current system. 

Although my tenure on council was cut short, and I was not able to experience the honor of being mayor, one of the attractive features of serving on council is the potential of being selected to serve as mayor. This is a current feature of our City Charter that serves to attract people to run for city council. 

The current proposal would eliminate that feature. Moreover, who would really want to experience the frustration of serving on a council where the City Charter provides the mayor with absolute authority and power, and places an individual council member in the position of not being able to represent the constituents of his or her district? 

Here are a few other reasons for not supporting this initiative:

–Do we really want carpetbaggers moving to our city, establishing the required residency, and then running for mayor? Individuals who have no longevity in or a history of service to our city?

–A mayoral bid is going to be expensive, and the influence of campaign donors would likely be concentrated behind a single person or group in the City. Ordinary citizen concerns could be less a consideration if the elected mayor has an allegiance to a donor or group making large donations in order to insure re-election, and to elections beyond that of Newport Beach Mayor. 

–Our City would have to go through redistricting (from 7 to 6), with each district having one council representative except for the district that the newly elected mayor lives in. Could this be a potential problem? Double representation?

If this idea of an elected mayor is such a good idea for Newport Beach, then why isn’t the current council not approving this as an item on the ballot for the next election and foregoing the signature gathering process? Why is it just the effort of only one current council member? Again, this is just a bad overall idea!

Jeff Herdman

Former City Council Member (2016-2020)

Newport Beach

More power checks needed for elected mayor

I am in total agreement with Susan Skinner, a lifelong and highly respected member of Newport Beach, who has an excellent understanding of everything that pertains to Newport Beach and to city government.

I was so surprised to learn that all of a sudden out of nowhere comes the idea from seemingly one single City Council member to make the mayoral position of Newport Beach an elected office. And although it has not been stated, nor do we know for certain, it is most likely that this new position is being created for the person who originated the petition. This seems like an extremely opportunistic move, especially since it does not seem to be supported by other council members.

If the petitioner or another council member, with the exception of one position, were to run, it would mean that he/she would serve for 16 uninterrupted years as a leader.

Also, many of the council members have already had the opportunity to serve as mayor. This is way too long of a period for one person to be in office, particularly if during the last eight years that person serves a stint as a mayor with incredible, nearly unchecked power over the council and the residents of Newport Beach.

The idea of an elected mayor in and of itself is not necessarily a bad idea
as long as there were more power checks on that position and no current council
member could run, meaning that one person could not serve 16 uninterrupted
years. There is no good reason to support at this time what could well be the pursuit of one person.

Lynn Lorenz

Newport Beach

 

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