Newport Beach City Council to consider addition of ‘Elect Our Mayor’ initiative to ballot

Mayor Brad Avery switches seats with outgoing Mayor Will O'Neill.
Mayor Brad Avery switches seats with outgoing Mayor Will O’Neill during a Newport Beach City Council meeting in December 2020.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The “Elect Our Mayor” ballot initiative may be coming to fruition sooner than Newport Beach residents are expecting, depending on the outcome of a city council discussion Tuesday.

Up for consideration is the submission of a possible charter amendment for the public to vote on during either the June primaries or the November midterms that would allow for locals to vote on their mayor. The item was brought to the agenda by Councilman Noah Blom. City spokesman John Pope said the item will require at least four council members supporting the matter before it can be moved forward for voter consideration.

Currently, Newport Beach is governed by seven council members that share equal power and responsibility. Each council member represents a district of the city and is voted in at-large. Under existing policy, the role of mayor is largely ceremonial and is decided among the council members annually and the mayor is seated for a rotating, one-year term.

The ballot measure, if approved by voters, would allow an elected mayor to serve a maximum of two, four-year terms. That person would not be able to run for a position on the council after their mayoral term ended, according to Councilman Will O’Neill, who brought forward the proposed ballot measure in September.

Additionally, under the measure as proposed, the number of districts would be reduced to six, with the election of mayor and council members for Districts 2 and 5 — encompassing Newport Heights, Westcliff, Newport Shores, West Newport and Balboa Island — to occur every presidential election year.

Districts 1, 3 and 6 — Balboa Peninsula, West Newport, Dover Shores, Santa Ana Heights, Bayshores and Corona del Mar — would be voted in every midterm election.

The mayor would be counted as a council member to establish a quorum, preside at all council meetings, vote and have the discretion to determine the order of business. They would also set the agenda for meetings, but three city council members would have the discretion to add items to a future agenda at every meeting.

Volunteers are currently working to collect 9,000 verifiable signatures from Newport Beach residents, but Pope said if the council votes to push forward with the charter amendment that signature collection would no longer be necessary.

Response to the proposed ballot measure has been mixed, with some arguing that the city needs a stronger mayoral system because of its size and scope while others worry it may provide one council member with too much power or undermine current term limits, which similarly only allow council members to run for two, four-year terms.

Individuals who spoke during the public comment section of the last city council meeting largely said they objected to the “Elect Our Mayor” campaign.

The council will consider adopting four resolutions that would place the charter amendment on the ballot and designate members of the council to draft a direct argument for or against the ballot measure and any rebuttal argument necessary. If they agree to move forward with the process, they will also be deciding on which ballot the charter amendment will be placed.

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