Commentary: Measure EE keeps Newport efficient

Three years ago, when I became Newport Beach's city manager, I knew right away that I had to shrink the size of city government. Today, we have 80 fewer staff members than in 2009.

But that doesn't mean our service to you should suffer. That's in part why I recommended many of the changes proposed in the charter update for Newport Beach (Measure EE).

To me, they are about being more efficient while staying transparent and accessible to the public. In some cases, the charter doesn't recognize how we can get documents and data to you via the Internet. In other cases, state laws like the Brown Act (open meeting rules) effectively duplicate or override older provisions of the charter.

The charter's provisions there can be aligned with those laws, including the state's tough conflict-of-interest laws. If we do not do so, the duplicative or overridden sections in the charter become "traps for the unwary." Oftentimes, the unwary ones are well-intended city staff members handling more documents, more inquiries and more rules with less help.

A few other changes are:

The police chief should be with his officers and the library director should be in the Central Library. Neither should office at City Hall. But the current charter says they have to be with me. Measure EE fixes that.

Having a meeting just to have a meeting is always a bad idea. A case in point: In 2012, the City Council's regular second meeting will fall on Christmas Day. The current charter says the council must meet twice in December regardless. Measure EE says not holding two meetings in December (and in August) is OK.

How about council compensation? I have shown folks the current charter's text about council compensation, and learned via that experience that the old language is very hard to understand. It seems purposely misleading. So I proposed calling it like it is without increasing or reducing compensation at all. Just making it clear. So that's what you'll see in Measure EE. Clarity about the fact that council members get some pay for a tough job. By the way, contrary to what a letter-writer wrote, ex-council members do not get health-care benefits ("Charter changes are indeed a 'big deal,'" Oct. 30).

I know that Measure EE contains a lot of suggested changes. But please read them. To me, they help a hard-working (and shrinking) staff do more with less, affirming that a smaller government staff can still be clear, open and responsive to the community. If you have any questions about the provisions in Measure EE, please ask.

DAVE KIFF is the city manager of Newport Beach.

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