LOCAL ELECTIONS BALLOT MEASURE : Prop. F Would Double Council Salaries, Strengthen Veto

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vice Mayor Wallace Edgerton's advice to voters on Proposition F is simple: If you believe that the only thing the June 5 ballot measure will accomplish is to double City Council members' salaries, vote no.

Edgerton is hoping, however, that voters will see more to Proposition F than a simple salary increase and vote yes.

The measure would double the salaries of Edgerton and his colleagues from $17,739 to $35,478, costing the city an added $253,000 annually. The measure also would strengthen the mayor's power by requiring six of the nine council votes, instead of five, to override a veto.

Proponents say increasing the council's pay would open the political system to more candidates, especially minorities, who would otherwise not be able to afford the time commitment a council seat requires. The nine-member council has one black councilman, Clarence Smith, and is losing its only woman, Jan Hall, whose term expires in July.

"Any time you open up the system, you get better candidates because the pay is better," Edgerton said. "And you get the incumbents rising to a better level of performance because of increased competition."

Proponents also argue that council members should be compensated for the demands and responsibilities running the city places on them.

Leaders of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, which opposes the measure, said they have no problem with the idea of increasing council salaries. They oppose Proposition F because it does not go far enough.

"We favor full-time pay for full-time work," said Alan Lowenthal, president of the group. The proposed Charter amendment is weak, he said, because it does not forbid outside full-time employment. Most of the council members have full-time jobs.

Lowenthal's group also opposes Proposition F because it will strengthen the mayor's veto "at the expense of the council." The measure would require a two-thirds vote of the council to override a veto.

Under existing law, if the council adopts an ordinance on a 5-4 vote and the mayor vetoes it, a simple majority of five votes is required to override the veto. But if two-thirds of the nine council votes are required to overcome a veto, the minority on the council could determine an issue, Lowenthal pointed out.

"Long Beach history shows that good legislation is frequently enacted on 5-4 votes. To obtain the sixth vote to override a veto may be difficult, if not impossible," Lowenthal wrote in his ballot argument.

But supporters argue that the stronger veto would encourage the mayor to take positions on issues and be more accountable. The existing veto power "has no practical effect since the same number of votes that passed a measure can override the mayor's veto power," a Charter Amendment Task Force wrote in its final report to the council last January.

The task force was created to evaluate how the full-time mayoral position voters created in 1986 is working and whether it should be revised. The task force considered giving the mayor a vote on the council, but it opted instead to endorse strengthening the mayor's veto power.

Several city officials who support Proposition F concede that the measure will have a tough time getting voter approval, particularly since it is on the ballot with another measure asking voters to create a new property tax to pay for more police.

"It's not a particularly favorable time," said longtime Councilman Tom Clark, a mayoral candidate.

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