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Council Approves Wording for Ballot

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Advocates of a mayor-led drive to overhaul Los Angeles’ voluminous City Charter, complaining that a summary of their ballot proposal is biased and inaccurate, Friday asked the City Council to make some changes.

But they got a resounding “too bad” in the form of a 14-0 vote to accept as written the work of the city’s Ballot Simplification Committee.

Council members on both sides of the charter revision issue said they were unwilling to set a bad precedent by second-guessing the work of the five-member committee, which includes a representative of the mayor’s office.

At issue is the city’s two-decades-old system of writing digests, or simplified versions, of the often highly technical wording of measures submitted to voters. The aim is to present the material clearly and simply enough to be grasped by someone with an eighth-grade reading ability.

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The latest tussle over the hotly contested issue of charter reform arose as the council faced a Friday deadline for approving digests for the eight measures in the April 8 municipal primary.

Proposition 8, backed by Mayor Richard Riordan, asks voters to form an elected commission that would write a proposal for a new charter and submit the work directly to voters. The City Council has offered a competing method by appointing an advisory commission to overhaul the 680-page charter; the council would review--and could change--the appointed commission’s work before asking voters to approve it.

An attorney for Citizens to Turn L.A. Around, the group formed and financed by Riordan and his allies to put its charter-rewriting plan before voters, asked council members to make several changes in the digest committee’s work. James A. Hamilton, an attorney with Riordan & McKinzie, the law firm the mayor co-founded, said the digest is “inaccurate, not impartial and, in certain respects . . . misleading.”

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In asking the council to either change or eliminate the digest, Hamilton complained that it implied there would be no public hearings on the commission’s work and did not make it clear that its proposed new charter would go directly to voters. Hamilton implied the group would sue if the digest went to voters unaltered.

Council members, however, said they were unwilling to rewrite the work of the committee, which has an extremely sensitive job.

“This is not a process we ought to politicize” by editing the committee’s work, Councilman Jackie Goldberg said.

Councilman Joel Wachs, the only member who supports Riordan’s charter commission proposal, said the committee was “not intended to be a truth squad.” While he said he agreed with at least some of Hamilton’s objections, he said the dispute belongs in the courts, not before the council.

A couple of city lawmakers, alluding to their contention that the real motivation behind the ballot campaign is to tilt the balance of power away from the council and in favor of the mayor’s office, could not help but note the irony in the situation.

“This is coming from a group that complains that the City Council has too much power,” said Councilwoman Ruth Galanter. “This doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Councilman Hal Bernson said he found it “ironical that a group that wants an independent commission to rewrite the charter . . . doesn’t like what this independent group has done and wants the council to change it.”

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In addition to the charter commission measure, the council approved digests for seven other ballot measures, several of which are expected to spark some controversy.

Proposition 7 asks voters to continue a 3.75% surcharge on the city’s business tax. The mayor and council extended the surcharge, which brings in about $10 million a year, in June 1995. That makes it subject to the rules imposed by Proposition 218, which requires that all general taxes imposed, increased or extended between Jan. 1, 1995, and Nov. 5, 1996, win approval from a majority of voters to stay on the books.

Referendum Ordinance 6 asks city voters to relax the limits on elected officials’ “officeholder accounts.” Proposition 208 on last fall’s state ballot drastically reduced the city’s own limits of $75,000 per year in spending from these accounts.

Charter Amendments 1 and 2 would allow officials greater flexibility in scheduling election days and to decide whether a particular election should be conducted at polling places or by mail. The rules would apply to city and Los Angeles school board elections.

Amendment 3 is aimed at allowing some Fire and Police department employees to participate in an alternative pension plan, while Amendment 4 would give the council and mayor more leeway in deciding the maximum limit for routine departmental budget transfers.

Amendment 5 would enable some transfers of functions between elected and non-elected offices.


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