H.B. rejects plan to directly elect mayor

The Huntington Beach City Council opted Monday to continue to rotate the mayor's seat yearly and keep the positions of city attorney, clerk and treasurer free from term limits.

Mayor Matthew Harper's proposal to have residents directly elect the mayor was voted down 5 to 1 — his was the lone dissenting vote — and his suggestion to have equal term limits for all elected officials fell by the wayside. Councilman Joe Carchio was absent because of illness.

Had the council approved, the issue would have been placed on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Harper's colleagues said they had not heard of any public interest in having an elected mayor. Currently, the council members decide annually who among them will serve as mayor and mayor pro tem.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe Shaw, who served on the city's Charter Review Committee in 2010, said the group discussed the matter but chose not to suggest amending the charter to allow for a directly elected mayor.

"The charter is our constitution. Most of the things we put in the charter become permanent," he said. "It's very important to have a wide body of people from the community to speak out on this and to put their input in, and I don't think we're getting that."

In Huntington Beach, Councilwoman Jill Hardy said, having an elected mayor could be seen as a cost issue. The City Council recently debated whether it should restore compensation for new council members, and Hardy said an elected mayor might be seen as requiring a higher salary.

"I know that many people, in preparation [to be the next mayor], they'll save up some money so that they can work a little less and can be more committed to the mayor position," she said. "That's something that would alter who ran for mayor and may require us to spend more money on that position than we currently do."

Meanwhile, the city attorney, clerk and treasurer can serve an unlimited number of four-year terms, so long as voters keep putting them back in office. Council members, on the other hand, are limited to two consecutive four-year terms.

Harper said that just as the city is right to give residents the opportunity to vote on significant projects, like construction of the senior center, "it's vital that our city involves the voters in these key governmental decisions."

But many speakers at Monday's meeting did not share his vision.

"In recent years, we have had few qualified challengers to our incumbent officeholders in these three categories," resident Tim Geddes said. "We shouldn't term-out a veteran officeholder doing a good job just so that some inexperienced challenger could wind up representing our city."

Other council members concurred and said it takes time for the city attorney, clerk and treasurer to be knowledgeable about their respective fields of work.

"The voters do make a decision when the city attorney, city clerk and city treasurer runs, and they make a decision on whether they want them back," Councilman Jim Katapodis said. "I don't really think term limits are that important. It's important to keep the continuity."

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