After three months of study, a special city task force has unanimously recommended that the City Council put on the November ballot a proposal to replace the current ceremonial mayoralty with a $67,500-a-year, full-time mayor.
Under the proposal, the mayor would be elected citywide by June, 1988.
But the task force, seeking to avoid political controversy and voter confusion while keeping costs low, rejected a more extensive restructuring of city government that would have also created a full-time City Council and shifted some of the city manager’s most important duties to the mayor and council.
Contribution Limits Rejected
In addition, the task force left out of its plan a provision backed by two City Council members to limit campaign contributions in municipal races.
“We’re recommending a bare-bones proposal that we believe is simple and cost-effective,” said Elaine Hutchison, task force chairman, before that group unanimously adopted its plan late Tuesday.
The plan probably will be on the council’s agenda when it meets next Tuesday, she said. The council, acting as the city’s Charter Amendment Committee, can alter the measure before deciding by Aug. 8 whether to place it on the November ballot.
Earlier this year, most council members said they favored a full-time mayor elected citywide, but several disagreed on how authority should be split among the mayor, city manager and the council. Only Councilwoman Eunice Sato said she wanted to keep the current structure.
The council appointed the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force of 19 community leaders in January, after twice debating a proposal by an independent citizens’ committee that would have changed the current council-manager, or “strong manager” form of government, to a system with a stronger mayor and council.
Backers of that proposal said it would have made government more open and responsive to the public by putting more administrative authority in the hands of elected officials.
The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force agreed that Long Beach, whose voters eliminated citywide council elections in 1976, needs stronger elected leadership.
“What we’re saying is that we want a leader elected by all the voters of this community to focus attention on citywide issues,” said Hutchison, who is also president-elect of the Chamber of Commerce. " . . . But we also want to retain the best possible professional manager we can get.”
Currently the mayor, who is a council member elected only by voters of one district, is selected every two years by council colleagues. The mayor now receives $13,800 a year, compared to $12,600 for other council members.
The proposed full-time mayor would have one strong, new legislative power: the right to veto council actions. The council, which would still have nine members representing nine districts, could override the veto with a two-thirds vote. The mayor would preside at meetings but would not vote.
The full-time mayor would also be the chief administrative officer of a new Legislative Department, which would include the mayor, council and the office of the city clerk. The clerk’s staff and other employees “as may be deemed necessary” would be made available to serve the mayor and council, according to a draft charter amendment approved by the task force.
As head of the Legislative Department, the mayor would receive the city budget from the city manager two weeks before the council. The mayor’s recommendations would be forwarded with the budget to the council.
Another key task force provision would increase council salaries by $4,275 a year to $16,875, which is 25% of the mayor’s proposed salary.
Council salaries were kept down and other changes limited to keep the proposal’s price tag low, said Hutchison. In 1982, voters rejected by a 3-1 margin a full-time mayor proposal in part because of its cost, she said.
In its report to the council, the task force stresses that “changes in the structure of city government should be approached conservatively and taken one step at a time.”
Its proposal would require that in 1990 the mayor appoint a second task force to determine whether further changes, such as a full-time council, are desirable.
This task force, however, limited its goals.
For example, it decided early on not to take up a politically sensitive proposal by Councilmen Thomas Clark and Warren Harwood to limit campaign contributions in city races. The councilmen argued in January that spending limits would make a full-time mayor more acceptable to voters because it would eliminate the possibility of a very expensive citywide race.
The task force also rejected changes that would have effectively turned the city manager into an administrative officer, making his appointment of department heads subject to council approval and forcing him to share with the mayor the preparation of the annual budget.
The earlier citizens’ committee plan would have allowed voters to recall the city manager and required a formal evaluation of the manager every two years; neither provision was adopted by the task force.
Hutchison said the task force wanted to avoid political controversy that might kill the full-time, citywide mayor provision--the group’s primary goal. It was also the task force’s belief that the city manager form of government has served Long Beach well, she said.
“I think certainly no one would say that the present city manager (John Dever) hasn’t made a great contribution to this city the last 10 years,” she said.
Councilman Wallace Edgerton, however, has argued strongly that the city manager position is too insulated from the public and should be abolished.
Addressing the task force Tuesday, Edgerton again insisted that administrative powers now held by the city manager should be turned over to a strong mayor, who would function like a governor on the state level or president at the federal level.
The 1982 full-time mayor ballot measure failed not only because of its cost, but because it did not give the mayor enough power, Edgerton said. And he predicted the City Council would reject, 6 to 3, any task force plan that makes the same error.
“If you’re going to fix it, fix it,” Edgerton said.
He said that he and council members Ernie Kell, Jan Hall, Marc Wilder, Edd Tuttle and James Wilson all favor a shift to a “strong mayor” system and would vote against a proposal to make the mayor a full-time employee without much new power.
Alex Bellehumeur, a member of the task force and chairman of the citizens’ committee that brought the full-time proposal to the council in January, said he viewed the task force recommendation as a victory. “We got 80% to 90% of what our original proposal was, so I’m very pleased,” Bellehumeur said.
If the council rejects the task force plan, Bellehumeur said the citizens’ committee would try to gather 17,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot as an initiative.