Huntington Beach City Council hears negative public input on charter amendments

The Huntington Beach City Council has been mulling placing charter amendments on the ballot in March.
The Huntington Beach City Council has been mulling placing charter amendments on the ballot in March. Many members of the public have been questioning the need for them.
(File Photo)

The Huntington Beach City Council has four special meetings scheduled to get feedback on possible charter amendments that could go on the ballot next March.

Many who showed up at the first meeting Thursday night questioned whether a change to the charter, which hasn’t happened since 2010, should occur in the first place.

Thirty-three of the 39 public speakers at the meeting said they were against any charter amendments, though a few said that they supported an amendment to further localize control of elections and require a show of identification when voting.


Huntington Beach resident Harry McLachlan asked the council to reject a nationwide effort “to instill fear and doubt into the security and legitimacy of our voting process,” calling a charter amendment that would give more election control to the city “a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

“As a poll worker during our elections, I know first-hand that this is pure baloney based on falsehoods and misinformation,” McLachlan said. “The Orange County Registrar of Voters is a national model for how the voting process should be carried out. Other states actually send their voting officials here, to learn how to improve their own procedures. Please explain to our citizens why this current Republican council majority wishes to exert any measure of local control over a county election model that currently functions quite well without additional local interference.”

By contrast, Rick Brown was one of the few residents who spoke out in favor of voter ID.

“When you go to the bank, you go to the airport, you go on a cruise ship, you’re showing your ID,” Brown said. “There’s a reason for that. We need to understand who’s who in the United States when we’re going places, and especially when we’re voting. That’s a fundamental right.”

The council, minus absent Councilman Pat Burns, did not do much talking at Thursday night’s meeting, which lasted two hours and featured strictly public comments and a short PowerPoint presentation made by city staff. Residents were allowed 90 seconds per person both before and after the presentation to speak.

Orange County Elections workers swap out one empty bin with another at the ballot drop box in Huntington Beach in 2021.
Orange County Elections workers swap out one empty bin with another at the ballot drop box located at 5 Points Plaza in Huntington Beach in 2021.
(File Photo)

The agenda item and the PowerPoint presentation both indicated that the City Council would begin discussing possible charter amendments Thursday. But Mayor Tony Strickland said that was an error, and the first special meeting was to be strictly a listening session.

“I came to discuss charter amendments,” Councilman Dan Kalmick responded. “Are you ready to go home? I got child care tonight to come down and work here ... You’re wasting the public’s time if we’re not able to deliberate and discuss what folks said tonight, while it’s fresh.”

Strickland said the structure was to get input this week and next week, before discussing the ideas starting next week.

“That’s what we’re going to be doing,” he said. “Tonight was a listening session.”

Strickland clarified in a phone interview Friday that the mayor is responsible for setting the agenda, which is then published by the city clerk.

“For a normal meeting, we do a mayor’s agenda review to discuss what’s on the items,” he said. “There was no mayor’s review of the agenda for this [special] meeting, but I had an extensive meeting with [City Manager] Al [Zelinka], and [Councilman] Casey [McKeon] was in the meeting. We discussed exactly the parameters that we would do in the next four weeks. Somehow, there was a miscommunication from the city manager to the city clerk.”

Strickland told Kalmick during the meeting he could appeal the ruling of the chair. Instead, Kalmick brought a motion to adjourn all charter discussion and remove charter revisions from the agenda completely, unless a charter review commission is formally called that has members of the community.

The motion failed 3-3 with a majority needed. Kalmick and Councilwomen Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton voted for, and Strickland, Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark and McKeon voted against.

Predictably, some residents were upset about the change from the published agenda.

“It was there, it was written, it was publicized, and then the mayor says there was a misunderstanding?” Jeanne Farrens said. “I’m sorry, there was no misunderstanding. I, for one, feel insulted, and I think others feel insulted too. You really want our input? You can’t convince me from what happened tonight.”

A regular Huntington Beach City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday. The special council meetings related to charter amendments then continue Thursday, with proposed language for council-identified amendments set to be drafted. The third meeting, on Sept. 28, will feature the first votes on what to move forward.

“[The public will] have the opportunity to bring up their ideas again in the next meeting,” Strickland said Friday. “Hopefully, some folks, if they do have suggestions, they will bring their suggestions forward.”