Another political battle between a grass-roots citizens group and City Hall erupted this week when City Atty. Victor Kaleta said he found "inconsistencies" in the group's 7,203 petition signatures calling for a reorganization of Pasadena's government.
Citizens for Representative Government, which has been collecting signatures for seven months to place a far-ranging series of Charter amendments on the June ballot, presented the petitions to the Board of City Directors on Monday. On Tuesday, Kaleta said his review of the signatures "revealed significant inconsistencies with the requirements for such Charter amendment petitions."
Kaleta, whose job will be affected if the ballot initiative passes, declined to say what inconsistencies were found. He turned the petitions over to a private law firm to determine whether they meet legal requirements, he said. Kaleta announced late Wednesday afternoon that the petitions had been approved and will be forwarded to the Los Angeles county registrar for signature verification.
Possible Violation of Law
Dale Gronemeier, an attorney for the citizens group, said Kaleta's action may violate government and state election code provisions for dealing with petition initiatives.
"Kaleta said he had reviewed one or more of the petitions," Gronemeier said Wednesday. "In our judgment, (that) is a violation of law. I don't believe that the city clerk or the city attorney has the discretion to say there's something wrong with (the petitions)."
Gronemeier also said Kaleta did not tell him what specific inconsistencies were discovered in the petitions. "I don't know why he's hiding the ball from us," Gronemeier said.
Kaleta's action culminates a longstanding battle between Citizens for Representative Government and city officials. The group is part of an increasingly vocal citizens movement that has criticized City Hall in recent months for being unresponsive to the needs of the community.
The proposed Charter amendments and the attendant bitterness toward City Hall began last summer when the Board of City Directors attempted to implement a controversial assessment district that would have charged homeowners yearly fees of up to $96.67 for street and lighting repairs.
During public hearings over the assessment district, hundreds of angry residents demanded that City Manager Donald McIntyre be fired and a that recall election be held for board members.
The board dropped the assessment plan and has been struggling since then to regain its credibility with groups like Citizens for Representative Government.
In its petition drive, the group collected signatures to place on the June ballot an initiative that calls for a mayor elected citywide, the abolishment of the city manager's job, an elected city clerk and city attorney, and a new, elected position of city controller. About 6,000 signatures are required to place the initiative on the ballot. The county registrar has been contracted by the city to verify the petition's 7,203 signatures.
At present, the mayor's job is rotated among the seven-member Board of City Directors, and the city clerk and city attorney are appointed. The city manager, who is appointed by the Board of City Directors, is the most powerful non-elected official in Pasadena.
Although at least two members of the Board of City Directors say they favor a mayor elected citywide, none has voiced support for the ballot initiative.
Mayor Bill Bogaard said this week that he stridently opposes the plan, which is modeled after Los Angeles' form of municipal government. "I doubt that Pasadena needs or should attempt to have a city government like L.A.'s."
Bogaard suggested this week that the board consider placing a charter amendment on the June ballot that would make it easier to fire the city manager. Bogaard's proposal, which has not yet been reviewed by the board, would change the number of city director votes needed to oust the city manager. Under the current charter provision, five votes are needed for such an action. Bogaard wants to change that number to four.
'Been on My Mind'
His action, however, is not predicated on the current controversy, he said. "It's been on my mind for a long time," Bogaard said. "And it is not in any way connected to (McIntyre's) performance.
"The board makes all of its important decisions by a vote of four," he said. "To exalt the position of city manager above that strikes me as not really what the voters want."
McIntyre, who has been under fire by angry residents since the assessment district controversy, said this week that he has no objections to Bogaard's proposal. And, like the board, he said he opposes the proposed ballot initiative.
"I don't think any responsible city manager would want to hang his professional hat on a (confidence) vote of 5 to 2," McIntyre said. "It would be impossible to work with a city council if you didn't have a majority of support."
But doing away entirely with the city manager's position in favor of an elected mayor is a rash step, McIntyre said.
"The strong mayor form of government brought about the shame of the cities around the turn of the century," he said. "Probably the best current example I can think of is New York City's bankruptcy."
But, he added, "I think the people have the absolute right to support the type of government they want. I think it will be good to get it on the ballot and see how the people feel."