Former L.B. Aide Warns Council Against Haste : Closer Look Due for Strong-Mayor Plan

Times Staff Writer

Heeding the warnings af a former assistant city manager, the Chamber of Commerce and some of its own members, the City Council delayed action this week on a proposal that would dramatically alter the structure of city government.

The council vote came after Robert C. Creighton, assistant city manager here until 1982, advised the council to "take plenty of time."

"(This plan), in the hands of a strong and unscrupulous mayor, could serve as a blueprint for boss rule in Long Beach," Creighton warned.

The delay also followed a request by Chamber of Commerce President Chris Pook for the council to cautiously analyze the restructuring proposal, which would sharply reduce the authority of the city manager while increasing the power and giving full-time status to the mayor and council.

"We think the city manager has done a very good job over the years," said Pook, representing the 3,300-member chamber.

Warning of Haste

It may be time for a full-time mayor, he said, but the proposal was produced by a self-appointed committee, and if pushed quickly onto the June 3 ballot it could lose because it would be seen "as a hastily stitched-together plan."

The council will renew its consideration of the proposal, forwarded to it in late November by a broad-based citizens' group, in two weeks. It will also consider alternatives forwarded by council members.

At a later meeting, probably in early February, it is expected to decide whether to place a restructuring proposal before the voters in June as an amendment to the City Charter.

The proposal of the Citizens to Evaluate a Full-Time Mayor and City Council took three months to research and draft. All council members except Mayor Ernie Kell made presentations to the committee.

But several council members seemed to agree with Councilman Tom Clark, who said Tuesday, "What we have here today is a point to work from."

Mayor Elected Citywide

Under the committee's plan, some of the city manager's most important duties would go to the mayor, who would be elected citywide and be paid $65,000 a year. For example, the full-time mayor, rather than the manager, would recommend priorities for the budget.

Other duties would go to, or be shared with, council members, who would earn $39,000 annually and be required to work full time.

Now, part-time council members are paid $12,600 annually, and the mayor, who is selected every two years by his council colleagues, receives $13,800. The mayor has the same power as the rest of the council.

Most council members say they want a full-time mayor because the post would help focus city leadership. And several have said they favor a full-time council.

But council members said at the two-hour hearing Tuesday that they have strong reservations about some provisions in the citizen committee's 34-point plan.

A big problem with the proposal, council members and others said, is that it would give the mayor both legislative and executive powers, which on the federal level would be akin to making the President both chief executive and a member of Congress.

'New Role' in Government

"This proposal does put (the mayor) somewhere in the middle. . . . ," Councilman Marc Wilder said. "(It) would create a new role in government called 'leader.' "

Both Wilder and Councilwoman Jan Hall said they would support a ballot proposal that would clearly make the mayor the city's chief executive while making the city manager an administrator working under the mayor.

Of the six people who spoke before the council at the hearing, only its sponsors favored the citizens' committee plan.

Loren Brown, representing the political action committee of Downtown Long Beach Associates, said the present system--in which the city manager carries out the policies of a part-time council--is working fine.

Sid Solomon, president of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, said his group worked hard to help draft the citizen committee's plan, but opposes its final form.

Solomon said his group wants to eliminate the position of city manager and insists upon a full-time council, while the committee's plan would retain the manager and could support a part-time council with pay of between $18,000 and $24,000.

'Subservient Position'

Creighton, an administrator in Long Beach for more than three decades, said the committee's strong-mayor proposal would "place the City Council in a subservient position and would inevitably lead to conflict between the mayor and city manager."

He said the plan "reflects an anti-management bias, a basic distrust of management and a surprising lack of understanding as to how council-manager government actually works."

The current system, headed by City Manager John Dever since 1977, has been highly successful, he said.

For example, Creighton said, a number of large developers have been drawn here, and a recent city bond issue sold out in a tough market in three days--"a tribute to the respect in which our government is held elsewhere."

Alex Bellehumeur, chairman of the citizens' committee, said his group had already achieved a primary goal by getting the council to consider a change in government. He said the committee's plan would make City Hall more responsive to the public by distributing some manager duties among a mayor and council with more time to run the city.

Meetings Urged

Bellehumeur appealed to Pook, Creighton and other critics to meet with his committee during the next two weeks to iron out their differences.

Pook said, however, that the chamber was not interested in such a meeting. An important change in city government should be carefully drafted over several months by a committee under the aegis of the mayor and council, he said.

"Why the hurry?" Pook asked.

But the council seemed ready to try to put a proposal before voters this spring.

The full-time mayor issue "has been around for about 15 years," Clark told Pook. "I don't know what you consider haste."

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