On Nov. 2, Newport Beach voters will have before them a ballot measure, Measure V, which amends our City Charter. Measure V is a patchwork of 15 significant changes to the charter, all rolled into one measure.
Voters, who have attended local candidate forums around the city this election season, have heard repeatedly from the city attorney and City Council members to vote for the measure.
But what voters have not heard is why a bunch of unrelated changes have been lumped together for a single yes or no vote. Several of the changes are complex and would be controversial if allowed to stand on their own. The number of issues is so large that no clear explanation of what is being voted on is available in the sample ballot.
In the past, changes to the charter have always been voted on individually. We also are not told that several of the changes included in Measure V, have been rejected in the past, when they did stand alone on their own merit.
Measure V is presented to voters as "just housecleaning" and as "important charter reform." But which is it?
The centerpiece issue, which is always touted, is that Measure V closes Proposition 13 loopholes, but even this selling point is more complicated than proponents explain. This fix removes the council's authority to impose taxes, which may be necessary to fund employee pensions.
The Charter Update Commission itself decided at its Feb. 16 meeting that this provision should be left intact because it was a solemn obligation the city had committed to honor, properly "grandfathered" in under the language of Proposition 13. Yet individual members reversed themselves, with little opportunity for public input, on the night the council formulated the ballot language.
The proposal to "amend Civil Service System" completely scraps the current voter-approved system leaving only the Civil Service Board as a body to hear employee complaints. During Update Commission meetings, members were repeatedly told that a replacement Civil Service ordinance would be available in time for voters to compare it to the one they are being asked to repeal, yet none has appeared.
The proposal to "simplify franchise processes" completely nullifies the existing charter protections requiring public notice and hearings, adding language that leaves the council free to establish whatever alternative procedures it desires.
The current threshold of $30,000 for submitting contracts to competitive bidding is not as antiquated as proponents might imply. That level was in fact narrowly approved by voters in 1986, and the new proposed increase to $120,000 is significantly more than the amount of inflation since then.
As for the previously rejected proposals, discretionary funding to the Chamber of Commerce was a rejected alternative in 1955. Selling waterfront property by majority vote without creating a specific exception to the prohibition against such sales in the charter was rejected by a nearly 2-to-1 vote in 1974. And removing contract term limits, even to a more modest 55-year term, was soundly defeated in 1974.
Voters have a right to understand what they are being asked to vote on. This is not possible when 15 separate and distinct proposals are rolled into a single yes/no vote.
I will vote "no" on Measure V and the fact that I had to depend on my own research team to learn about V causes me to question council motives. It is a perfect example of why we need new voices and more transparency at City Hall.
MARK TABBERT is a candidate for the Newport Beach City Council.