Commentary: Why I support Newport Measure EE

When Newport residents complete their ballots this year, they will be asked to vote on Measure EE, which proposes changes in our charter.

I urge a yes vote. The changes will make city government more efficient without weakening any of our protections.

One argument against Measure EE is that the process was flawed. I disagree. Staff reviewed the charter for things we missed in the last go-around, things that were impeding our efforts to go from good to great in city government.

The City Council appointed a Citizens Charter Update Committee with a number of new faces and fresh ideas. Under the leadership of Chairman Paul Watkins they reviewed the proposals.

This was not a rubber-stamp committee by any means. The committee held hours of public testimony, held vigorous debates, and ended up accepting some proposals, revising some and outright rejecting others. After further review and public input, the council approved Measure EE for the November ballot.

Another argument against Measure EE is that we bundled issues together, making it a long slog to read. We did this because it saves money (each ballot issue has a price), many of the changes are ministerial and we vote on much more complicated initiatives in every state election. Can you imagine the outrage if we had 10, 15 or 38 different ballot measures each costing thousands of dollars?

There have been concerns about a provision that would protect the city against class-action lawsuits. This does not change an individual's right to sue the city if he or she feels wronged. What it does is preclude the kind of lawsuit often generated by enterprising lawyers who target a city as a "deep pocket," the kind of suit that generates big fees for the attorneys, little benefit to the supposed victims, and a real hit to the city's taxpayers and the city's continued ability to provide high-quality services.

Another concern has been raised about our conflict-of-interest provisions. Currently, no council or commission member shall be financially interested in any contract, sale or transaction to which the city is a party. This is so wide-ranging it could keep residents of Beacon Bay, who live on tidelands leased from the city, from ever serving on the council, for example.

The proposed change would alter the language this way: No member shall be financially interested in any contract, sale or transaction made by them in their official city capacity. If I have a financial interest, I can't vote, simple as that.

Opponents have said that this raises the possibility that some future, nefarious council members could collude under this new language. Well, the possibility is just as great under the current language, so why bar any of our residents from holding office because of a poorly drafted provision in our city charter when we can avoid that and at the same time provide ample protection with the extensive conflict of interest provisions in state law? If you read the red-lined version, you can easily see the recommended changes. I hope you will agree that they benefit the city and vote Yes on Measure EE.

NANCY GARDNER is the mayor of Newport Beach.

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