Huntington Beach council members gave the city attorney the go-ahead Monday to write an ordinance regarding campaign documents.
The item passed in a 4-2 vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Harper and Councilman Jim Katapodis dissenting. Councilman Joe Carchio was absent during Monday's meeting.
Introduced by Councilman Joe Shaw, the law would require campaign mailers or "hit pieces" to be filed with the city clerk's office to give candidates the opportunity to respond to statements made about them or their positions on issues.
"It basically gives out more information and it's a higher form of public involvement," Shaw said after the meeting. "It gives the citizens a tool to judge for themselves whether the information that's being offered in the campaigns is good or not."
Originally called Chapter 2.06, the ordinance was repealed in 2008 after a committee, which included members of the public, media and council members, decided it didn't accomplish anything, City Clerk Joan Flynn said.
"In the time that I had been there, we had never had anyone come in and ask for them," Flynn said. "So to us, that was the question: How often to people come in to ask and see them? And no one had asked to see them. And I believe it says in [the original ordinance] that candidates could leave self-addressed stamped envelopes and no one left [those] either. It seemed to be a waste of our staff time."
But Shaw's item was met with criticism from Harper.
"This looks like a manipulation of the process, by which to insert the heavy hand of the government of the city of Huntington Beach into the campaign process, which is purely political," Harper said. "I'm uncomfortable with this much politics being discussed at the dais of the City Council, but I am not the one who brought this ordinance forward. That lies in the hands of Councilmember Joe Shaw."
Harper said he, too, had been attacked by hit pieces while he was vying for a board member spot in the Huntington Beach Union High School District in 2002. Though he received many negative statements from opponents, he drew the most votes.
The mayor pro tem criticized Shaw for receiving the least amount of votes in the last City Council election, but Mayor Connie Boardman jumped in.
"You seem terribly concerned with the number of votes that people received when you ran," she said in comments aimed at Harper. "As the person who received the most votes when we ran, I'd like to respond to some of your concerns. Councilmember Shaw is bringing this forward directly because of the negative campaigning that occurred in the last election, and he's simply proposing that we restore something that was in place for literally decades.
"There's no conspiracy. There's no desire to abridge the First Amendment rights of anyone. It's simply a requirement that if you're going to send out a piece of mail, you drop it off at the city clerk's office so the public can come in and look at it."