The Newport Beach City Council voted 4-3 on October 26 to put the elected mayor proposal on the June 2022 ballot. This initiative will make our mayor an elected position and overturn term limits for this position. This might sound like an innocuous change, but it is not. This initiative allows a council person to finish 8 years in office and have another 8 years as mayor. It reduces the City Council to 6 district representatives instead of 7, creates an immensely powerful mayor and it removes substantial authority from other decision makers. There is no logical reason to abandon the seven existing City Council districts with a rotating mayor. This change will completely remake our system of city government.
Many of us don’t support this proposal because we see that having an abnormally powerful mayor silences the voices of others with differing viewpoints. Others are troubled that the initiative excludes the mayor from the term limits approved by the voters in 1992, allowing for up to 16 consecutive years in office, but maintains term limits for the other council members. A number of people note that reducing the total number of council districts reduces representation. Some don’t like having one man write the initiative to decide how the government should run, especially if that one man is positioning himself to become that powerful mayor. They may recognize, as many of us do, that having a particularly powerful mayor will be extremely dangerous if he or she is beholden to special interests. In fact, a diverse group of residents of all political persuasions are opposed to this initiative and feel that our current City Council process has served us well.
Any way this initiative is sliced, it does not serve the citizens of Newport Beach. Supporting this proposal is discarding a style of government that has worked well for Newport Beach residents.
If you would like more detailed information about this initiative, click here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1AGdHErCCbs2GTdpafI_I0ZDhhGztUkxJ/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=101926357516820541194&rtpof=true&sd=true
Thank you for caring about the future of our city. See what you can do below:
To read the actual initiative, with the concerning parts in bold, click here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ebnUsM17urRSazPP13OHEBGoSVp_4bWA/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=101926357516820541194&rtpof=true&sd=true
Add your name to the growing list of people who are publicly against the initiative. You may add your name here: https://forms.gle/4WR2viaoyULZvDE68
Make a donation
We have formed a PAC to oppose this proposal. Donations can be made to No Elected Mayor and sent to 2618 San Miguel Dr., #1727, Newport Beach, CA 92660
Consider sending others information about this proposal. Here is a sample Email that you can send to your like minded friends: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZA-KxYTRqgKTrdqU9WrmCSQn0gDi09uj/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=101926357516820541194&rtpof=true&sd=true
Gary Adams, former Mayor
Joy Brenner, current Councilwoman
Homer Bludau, Citizen of the Year, former City Manager
Assemblywoman Marilyn C. Brewer, ret.
Diane Dixon, current Councilwoman
Tom Edwards, former Mayor
Nancy Gardner, former Mayor
Norma Glover, former Councilwoman
Evelyn Hart, former Mayor, Citizen of the Year
Mike Henn, former Mayor
Jeff Herdman, former Councilman
Walt Howald, Citizen of the Year
Steve Rosansky, former Mayor
Nancy Skinner, Citizen of the Year
Elizabeth Stahr, Citizen of the Year
Clarence "Bus" Turner, former Mayor
Paul Watkins, Citizen of the Year
Jean Watt, Citizen of the Year, former Councilwoman
Don Webb, former Mayor
Sam and Susan Anderson
Tom and Lu Baker
Lori S Bloom
Mary Ann Bruce
Richard Bruck, MD
David and Virtue Byrd
Mary E Citrano
Gary and Gina Cruz
Dee and Randy Curry
Barbara De Groot
Ruth G. Evans
Paula G Feldman
Lynn and Jeff Friedman
Chet E Harrison
Michael and Mary Ann Helmes
Mary Ann Hemphill
Pam and Mike Howard
Gary & Beverly Jordan
Chip and Gay Long
Richard and Lisa de Lorimier
Dr. & Mrs. Sanford Lyle
Gerald and Nancy Kern Kelleher
Donna and John Kidde
Marjorie von Klein Smid
William F. Kroener III
Mary K Madison
James M Madison
Maxine H Maly
Frank and Kelly Mancini
Anne Pamella Marks
Harold E Meany
Kathleen and Michael Murphy
Patricia A Nangle
Sue Ellen O’Connor
Kevin and Nella Webster O’Grady
Peggy V. Palmer
James "Buzz" Person
Michaela A. Pond
Ned and Darcy Lee Post
Lauri and Darryl Preedge
Joan Elizabeth Ramstedt-Andersen
Gail and Sorel Reisman
Dori Ribeiro de Oliveira
Tracy A Robert
John Santo, Jr.
Roberta U Schmidt
Hall and Melinda Seely
Susan Skinner MD
Michael C Smith
Mary Ann Soden
Judy & Steve Strauss
Sallie Jane Super
James D Tucker
Mongdiep (Bette) Vovan
Tina and William Wayt
Greg and Sharon Wohl
Ladeana and Leo Young
Jeff and Lauren Zielinski
and many others who wish to remain anonymous
Is having a directly elected Mayor good for Newport Beach?
A little history might shed some light on the issue of whether Newport Beach should have a directly elected Mayor. In 1953, Newport Beach voters elected 15 citizens to develop and propose a City Charter that was approved by a City-wide vote in 1954 and took effect in 1955. Over the past 66 years, our city government has operated under the Council/Manager system provided for under this Charter and has greatly thrived during that time.
The Charter was approved excluding a directly elected Mayor due to early 1950s history, when it was strongly felt by many local residents that just a few people had too much influence in how the City operated and therefore, the whole community was not sufficiently represented in local government decisions. The Charter intended to solve this problem by creating seven districts, each represented by a City Councilmember elected by the whole community and then having the City Council select a City Councilperson to be Mayor each year. The Mayor’s position was purposely intended by the Charter to be mostly ceremonial and no stronger than any other City Council position in order to ensure local residents, and not a strong Mayor, had significant influence in how local issues were decided by the City Council.
Fast forward until today. For the past 66 years, this community has realized the benefits of its current city government decision-making process – a process that facilitates a great deal of public input and the building of both a community and City Council consensus. Having a directly elected Mayor would hugely change that successful model of how City Council decisions have been made.
Having a directly elected Mayor would result in the following detrimental consequences:
1. Reduces the number of Council districts, resulting in City Council members representing more, not less, district residents than they currently represent.
2. Results in having both the Mayor and another City Councilmember both live in the same district, thus providing greater representation for one district over the others, potentially at the expense of those other districts.
3. Changes the current co-equal relationship of the Mayor with the City Councilmembers, and in doing so, changes the way City Council consensus is reached.
4. Changes the long-established Charter relationships of the Mayor with the City Manager and City employees, and by doing so, reduces the influence of the other City Councilmembers with the City Manager, City Attorney and City Clerk positions.
5. Results in Mayor election campaigns that could easily cost $500,000-$1,000,000, thereby making successful candidates more likely to be influenced by big donors’ contributions.
6. Such expensive elections could result in the election of a Mayor who has no experience with City government and has had little involvement in City issues and no understanding of the City operations or the City Charter.
7. Would work against the current practice of having a very deliberative and sometimes lengthy public input process due to the Mayor having greater influence over the Council’s agenda, operations and decision making.
8. Is likely to result in the Mayor openly backing other City Council candidates in order to personally gain even greater control over City Council decision-making.
9. In summary, creating a strong Mayor would inject a huge degree of politics into Council decision-making to the detriment of good community governance.
The current Charter’s structure of City Council decision-making has served this community remarkably well. We live in a hugely respected, admired and well-run city; the residents love living here, and our City has been largely devoid of the embarrassing political messes that many neighboring cities have experienced over the years. There is nothing broken here. Just the opposite. Everything about this City reflects excellence with City Council decisions historically being based on the needs of the community as a whole, rather than political interests.
Your current City Councilmembers are the beneficiaries of 66 years of a well thought out form of local governance. Please do not change the decision-making dynamics that have helped to make this community so special and successful. Creating a greater degree of politics in city government is no way to improve Newport Beach. Please respect and honor those City leaders who have gone before you and shown the current manner in which our Mayor is selected is both wise and prudent for the benefit of all Newport Beach residents.
It is for the above stated reasons that I am strongly opposed to changing the City Charter and having a directly elected Mayor.
Homer Bludau was the Newport Beach City Manager from 1999-2009.
Elected mayor is just not right for Newport Beach for so many reasons
I am a resident of Newport Beach; my family moved here in 1972; and my parents were honored a few years back as “Citizens of the Year” in Newport Beach.
I am writing to urge you to vote NO on the proposal for direct election of the mayor.
The key argument for the proposed change is that the “people of Newport Beach should elect their mayor.” But it is not quite right to say that the people of Newport Beach do not select their mayor. The citizens elect seven members of the city council and the council members select (each year) one of their number to serve as mayor for a one-year term. Given the small size of the city council, and the four-year terms of the members, and the frequency of second terms, most people who are elected to city council serve as mayor for at least one year. The people thus select their mayor indirectly, by electing a city council whose duties include selecting one of their members to serve as mayor each year.
Many other important positions in our governments are filled in a similar indirect manner. The people do not elect the Speaker of the US House of Representatives; the members of the House select the Speaker every two years. The people do not elect the federal attorney general, or indeed any other member of the Executive Branch; they elect a president (through another indirect mechanism, the Electoral College) who appoints (with the advice and consent of the Senate) the key members of the Executive.
The current system effectively ensures that mayors have experience in our city government. If you look at the men and women who have been mayor since 2001, all but one of them served at least one year as mayor pro tem and another year as city council member before becoming mayor. The only exception was John Heffernan, who was elected as mayor midyear in 2005, after serving eighteen months on the city council, to fill the vacancy created by the mid-year resignation of Steven Bromberg.
Nothing prohibits the city council members from selecting, in December, a member who has just been elected in November, but they have not done so in more than twenty years, for good reason. There is a de facto requirement of at least two years of city council experience to become mayor of Newport Beach.
Under the proposed system, there is no guarantee that the person elected mayor will have any prior experience on the city council or indeed in our city government at all.
If you look at other cities in California, some of them have directly elected mayors (including Los Angeles and San Diego) but far more of them have city councils (like ours) that select a short- term mayor from among their number. The pattern is clear: cities with large populations almost always have a directly elected mayor, and cities with smaller populations almost always have mayors selected by the city council.
Newport Beach is not a large city; the population according to the 2020 census is only 85,239 people. In a ranking of California cities by population, Newport Beach is (just barely) among the hundred largest cities.
If you look at cities in Orange County with about the same population as Newport Beach, in other words 80-100,000 people, only one of them, Westminster, elects its mayor directly. Five cities in this population bracket, including Mission Viejo and Lake Forest, both with larger populations than Newport Beach, use the same system as Newport Beach, that is indirect election.
And there are even larger cities, including Fullerton and Huntington Beach, that use indirect rather than direct elections to choose their mayors.
There is only one city in Orange County with a population smaller than Newport Beach that elects its mayor directly: Stanton.
The current system of selecting the Newport Beach mayor from among the council members for a one-year term and limiting the mayor’s role to presiding over the council meetings, works well. The system encourages collegiality among the members of the council, for each member either has served or is likely to serve soon as mayor. The system encourages the city staff to treat each member of the council with respect, not to defer to the powerful mayor and to slight the weaker council members.
To put the point another way, if we shift to the directly elected, more-powerful mayor envisaged by the proposal, the city manager would be demoted to something like chief-of-staff for the mayor. That would impede our ability to attract and retain a talented and dedicated city manager.
The current Newport Beach term limits ensure that no person serves on the city council for more than eight years. The proposed system would allow a person to serve on the city council for eight years and then serve another eight years as mayor. We should not create even the possibility of a single person having that length of tenure, that degree of control, over Newport Beach city government.
The proposal would make another key change in the city charter; it would give the mayor “sole discretion to set city council agendas” unless three out of the six other members of the city council vote to place an item on the agenda. It might appear that this is not much of a change, because at present the support of three council members is required to put an item on the agenda. In practice, however, this is a major change, because it gives the mayor sole power to set the agenda unless three of his colleagues disagree—something not likely to happen often. Moreover, under the current system, a council member can often get an item on the agenda indirectly, through the city manager. The proposed system would take away the power the city manager currently has to put items on the agenda—another diminution of her role.
The current system for selecting the mayor of Newport Beach has been in place for more than seventy years and has worked well. The advocates of the change have not pointed to any problem in the current system that needs to be fixed. They simply say that “the people should elect the mayor” without noticing that there are many other mayors who are not directly elected. Why does Newport Beach need a directly elected mayor when so many other cities do so well with indirectly selected mayors?
The proponents of the changes to the charter have not cited any social science evidence that directly elected mayors “do better” than indirectly elected mayors.
It may be tempting for the city council, at the forthcoming meeting on October 26, to say “some people favor the proposal, some oppose the proposal, let us put the issue on the ballot and let the people decide.” That would be a mistake. We elect the city council to make some difficult decisions for us, including decisions on whether to place measures on the ballot. Not every measure that attracts some support (and I would note that we do not know how many people have signed the petition in favor of the change) deserves a place on the ballot. We already know enough to know that this measure would harm, rather than help, Newport Beach.
For all these reasons, I urge you to vote NO on the proposed city charter change.
Walter B. Stahr
No shortcuts should be used in getting the ballot initiative Elect Our Mayor on the ballot.
I am opposed to Councilman Will O’Neill’s initiative to Elect Our Mayor in Newport Beach but that’s only my opinion and some people feel differently.
Perhaps our citizens should make sure they fully understand all the underlying facts involved in electing the mayor, but most importantly how Will O’Neill is trying to circumvent the system to get this item airlifted onto a future ballot in the next few weeks.
Has anyone on the council asked for a thorough financial analysis of what impact this move will have on our city? Adding another layer of government, staffing this layer, adding in retirement costs and benefits all need to be analyzed with costs being projected out over several years.
Also, this initiative would create a second class of councilmember with less ability to represent his/her constituents because of redistricting which creates a larger number of people to represent and diminishes the importance of neighborhoods, villages and businesses within each district.
Newport Beach voters approved a term limit of eight years for councilpersons, including the mayor, for a very good reason. Councilman O’Neill’s initiative would allow a councilperson who has served his eight years to then run for mayor, where he could potentially also serve two terms, i.e., another eight years!
The councilmembers have term limits, but the proposed elected mayor will serve without term limits.
Mr. O’Neill had 180 days from the date his amendment was certified to obtain 9,000 signatures to put this on the ballot for our citizens to vote on. Apparently, he’s finding that’s not such an easy task.
I can confirm that it’s not, from my experience getting signatures for the Museum House initiative. It’s a very difficult labor-intensive task but a large group of residents prevailed, and all worked hard together to get it done. It was a community effort.
Mr. O’Neill has now decided to circumvent the system by trying to “persuade” a majority of our City Council to vote yes to put his initiative on the ballot, instead of him getting the necessary 9,000 signatures required. Is that legal? Yes. But does it reflect the will of the people? I don’t think so.
Whether or not this proposed agenda item appears on the ballot will depend on four votes being received from our City Council. Mr. O’Neill has a way of getting what he wants with little or no resistance from councilmembers, but please I am pleading with you our elected city councilmembers, to put this item on the ballot only after a thorough and complete public vetting of the reasons for and against this important change to our form of government.
Why don’t we bring all of this to the community in the form of a series of Study Sessions, or just an old fashion Town Hall. Why not really listen to the community on this issue, rather than basing your decision on one person’s idea of what our form of government should be – without any debate on the issues that are of critical importance to how our city is governed.
This decision should not be based on promises and favors.
In my mind, this should not happen this way. Will O’Neill is trying to arrange things to facilitate long-term control of our city without the messy process of debates and give and take and consent of the people. Yes, democracy is messy but it’s better than the alternative (per Winston Churchill).
Please let’s do this for the people and by the people!
Lynn Swain / Newport Beach
The saga of Councilman Will O’Neill’s flawed “elected mayor” proposal has taken an unhappy twist that requires as many of us as possible to be informed, and to attend the Oct. 26 City Council meeting and speak out against it.
My guess is that many of you are asking yourself, “What proposal?”
Councilman O’Neill is proposing that we change our City Charter to having the citizenry of Newport Beach elect the mayor. As it has been since the inception of our Charter, the mayor has been elected by the council at its annual meeting held each January.
You are probably saying to yourself, “So what is wrong with that?”
I say nothing is wrong with it, if it were not for the fact that this proposal consists of two four-year terms for an elected mayor, allowing one person to serve for 16 years on the council. It requires the City Manager to seek the permission of the mayor to put the city’s normal business on the agenda, a restriction that no other city requires. The City becomes a mayor managed form of government as opposed to the current mayor-council governance structure.
The initiative states that “the mayor shall have the sole discretion to set City Council agendas.” This completely remakes our current form of government and dilutes the authority and power that each individual council member has.
The initiative will require the entire redistricting of our City (from 7 to 6), with double representation occurring in the district that the mayor lives in.
I am concerned about this double representation and the effect it will have on the other districts in terms of priorities for projects and spending.
Initially, Councilman O’Neill began a signature drive to get his proposal on the November ballot. He is now asking the City Council to put it on the ballot for him.
Attend the Tuesday, October 26 City Council meeting. When this agenda item comes up, each person will have three minutes to speak on the proposal. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the City Hall Council Chambers at 100 Civic Center Dr.
You may also submit comments by emailing the Council at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff Herdman, former Newport Beach City Council Member
This is not the first time that I have contemplated the strengths and weaknesses of the government in Newport Beach and the changes that would make it more responsive to its citizens.
Surely this proposal (to elect our mayor) to put so much power in the hands of one person is the opposite direction to move with that goal in mind.
I might ironically call it the “Lone Ranger” phenomenon, because it would greatly enhance the power of the Mayor and reduce the number and power of the Council members. And certainly we, the citizens and the rest of Council, are not “country bumpkins” looking for the man/ woman on the white horse to rescue us from anything. That none of the other members of Council has spoken out on this issue might be construed as their lack of support or interest in electing the mayor.
Those citizens who have attempted to get a Council person’s ear, can testify to the almost impossible endeavor of getting three Council people to bring forth an issue and then vote on it accordingly. Yet that is the number of Council members who would have to support a position to put it on the agenda according to this new plan being introduced.
And to expect the Mayor to favor an issue enough from one district to put it on the agenda is close to an “impossible dream.”
As another writer put it this week, the new proposal being suggested by Council member Will O’Neill, which will allow for uninterrupted leadership for 16 years “smacks of authoritarianism” and one-man rule.
But I would not be so quick to jump to the conclusion that it would be one man rule, because that one person who is elected will undoubtedly need backers and influencers who will take even more power away from the citizens than they do now.
But to citizens and even some fellow Council members, these people will remain faceless and nameless.
We have been hearing about and dealing with these power brokers for as long as I can remember, and their influence will undoubtedly increase with an elected mayor who has political debts.
I am not by nature a gamblin’ woman but in response to Council member Will O’ Neill’s remark that he is not sure as to whether he would run, let me say, “I’ll take that bet.”
Lynn Lorenz / Newport Beach
When I heard about Will O’Neill’s campaign to create an elected mayor position, I did some research to figure out what it would really mean for the citizens of Newport Beach. Of immediate concern was the fact that this idea was never brought before O’Neill’s city council colleagues or the public.
What my research showed is that councilman O’Neill has written a proposal that serves no one other than himself and is purely intended to create a future elected position for himself. And it would leave us residents with an all-powerful mayor who has the ability to overshadow the future of my district council representation and yours.
Equally important is that the proposed initiative overrides the 1992 voter-approved term limits (currently two 4-year terms).
It allows a councilperson to run for mayor but prevents a mayor from subsequently running for council. This would position councilman O’Neill to spend 16 years in Newport Beach city government, eight on the council and eight as mayor.
Term limits were instituted for a good reason: to prevent any one person from dominating city government for too long. And 16 years is way too long.
Government should be by the people and for the people. Our current system will serve our city much better than his proposed change.
Since when does one person get to decide major policy changes for the whole city? That is what is occurring with the push to elect our mayor.
Right now, the role of mayor is a one-year term and rotates among the current council. There have been no committees considering this. No discussions about the pros and cons of having an elected mayor have surfaced. Even the existing City Council isn’t a big fan of doing this, perhaps because it is driven by only one person without apparent consideration of any other viewpoints.
Initiatives have a long life since they can only be changed by another election. Shouldn’t we at least discuss this in a larger venue before it comes up for a vote, or are we just stuck with one man’s opinion of what the role of mayor should be?
Tom Baker / Newport Beach
Regarding electing our mayor, I am in total agreement with Susan Skinner, a lifelong and highly respected member of Newport Beach, who has an excellent understanding of everything that pertains to Newport Beach and to City government.
I was so surprised to learn that all of a sudden out of nowhere comes the idea from seemingly one single City Council member to make the mayoral position of Newport Beach an elected office.
And although it has not been stated, nor do we know for certain, it is most likely that this new position is being created for the person who originated the petition. This seems like an extremely opportunistic move, especially since it does not seem to be supported by other council members.
If the petitioner or another council member, with the exception of one position, were to run, it would mean that he/she would serve for 16 uninterrupted years as a leader.
Also, many of the council members have already had the opportunity to serve as mayor. This is way too long of a period for one person to be in office, particularly if during the last eight years that person serves a stint as a mayor with incredible, nearly unchecked power over the council and the residents of Newport Beach.
The idea of an elected mayor in and of itself is not necessarily a bad idea as long as there were more power checks on that position and no current council member could run, meaning that one person could not serve 16 uninterrupted years.
There is no good reason to support at this time what could well be the pursuit of one person.
Lynn Lorenz / Newport Beach
City Councilman Will O’Neill has announced that he is collecting signatures for a voter initiative to make the Mayor of Newport Beach an elected position. However, this initiative does much more than just establish an elected mayor. It establishes an elected mayor with immense power and that is just wrong.
Hidden in the initiative is Section 404(b), which states “Except as provided in Section 405, the Mayor shall have the sole discretion to set City Council agendas and to change the order of business on the agenda.”
Section 405 does allow adding items on the agenda if half of the remaining council members agree, but this is quite a high standard to meet and effectively excludes the rest of the council from readily bringing issues forward.
Instead, the initiative will give the mayor near total control of what may be brought in front of the council. If an unpopular issue is to be discussed and a crowd is expected for an agenda item at 8 p.m., the mayor can arbitrarily move the item to an earlier hour and bypass all that pesky input.
Now imagine if the mayor is beholden to special interests. If those special interests do or don’t want something inconvenient to their purposes on the agenda, the mayor can make that happen. As an example, many of us feel that Team Newport’s campaign consultant Dave Ellis exerts that power over his successful candidates. Remember the Museum House condo approved by the City Council over the objections of literally thousands of residents? The developer told me that Mr. Ellis was a consultant on the project because “that is how it is done.”
If a majority of the City Council supported this initiative, they could vote to put it on the ballot, but this has not occurred. Mr. O’Neill’s efforts to gather signatures appears to be a solitary quest unsupported by his fellow council members. Maybe they feel, as I do, that we should not give that much power to one person.
The residents of Newport Beach deserve to have their elected City Councilpersons have an equal say in the running of our city. Electing an abnormally powerful mayor is exactly the wrong thing to do and I sincerely hope that citizens think twice before signing this misguided initiative.
Susan Skinner / Newport Beach
Let’s talk about “Elect Our Mayor”
By AMY SENK
Do you want to have a direct vote to select the mayor of Newport Beach? Before you say “sure” because you saw it on Instagram, or because you have mad respect for the councilmember who has launched the Elect Our Mayor campaign, I am making a simple request.
Do your research. Listen and learn. Because like most things in life, this decision is more complicated than it might first seem. It may or may not be what this city needs, and a robust public debate could clear the air.
Personally, when I first heard about Councilmember Will O’Neill’s campaign to put the mayor election choice directly to voters, I thought it sounded good. I saw support on social media posts but didn’t give it further thought. It was Labor Day weekend and I was distracted.
Then my phone began to ring, and texts and emails stacked up – many from people deeply alarmed by O’Neill’s plan and its potential ramifications. I set out to learn more and spent the past week meeting with people, talking to them and asking questions. I spoke to former mayors, current councilmembers, chambers of commerce representatives, residents connected with groups like Speak Up Newport, SPON and the Corona del Mar Residents Association. I read opinion pieces and letters to editors, documents and emails listing numerous concerns. I also heard positive feedback and I met with O’Neill to discuss all of it.
The Elect Our Mayor plan would allow voters to vote for a mayor directly rather than the current system where the seven council members select a new mayor among themselves each December. It would restructure the city’s seven districts, creating six instead. It also would allow the directly elected mayor to set the agenda for City Council meetings, near exclusive control, some critics say. O’Neill has recruited volunteers to collect signatures to put this on a June ballot, and if it passes, he said the first direct mayoral election would take place in 2024. He may or may not run – he has not thought that far ahead, he told me.
Some people I spoke to told me that the effort smacked of authoritarianism: “Rather than relying on the traditional wisdom of collective decision making, everything would be so much better if we only had a strong man to tell the people what they should be thinking and make the trains run on time,” this friend wrote to me in an email.
Others made detailed multi-bullet point documents listing concern after concern after concern. These are not things you would get from reading comments on an Instagram post. A lot of them are wonky, in-the-weeds points that reveal a deep understanding of how our charter system works, how it has worked historically, past mistakes and tricky situations and the endless ripple effects that could result from this new system.
Have we considered what it might mean to allow one person to retain power in Newport Beach, through City Council and later mayoral terms, for 16 years or more? Have we considered what it would mean if we as citizens had a concern that we wanted placed on an agenda, but the future mayor disagreed and said no? Would we be able to, as non-politicians, be able to finagle half the council to help us? Would the city manager be able to help?
Currently, a citizen who runs for city council knows there is a chance he or she might someday get the opportunity to serve as mayor for a year. Will the new system dissuade some potentially amazing candidates from running, knowing that the gavel was off the table, that they would always be less equal on the dais?
Others said the proposal is a “solution looking for a problem” because our city is doing well, even coming out of the COVID crisis. O’Neill agreed that our current system isn’t broken, but he described his proposed system’s benefits, like having leadership continuity during difficult times.
We talked about why he launched his campaign over social media rather than with a robust public discussion at a City Council meeting, where many council observers and insiders would have expected such a proposed charter amendment to originate.
“This is trying to return power from the council to people,” he said. “Why not go directly to the people first?”
I have no problem with going to the people first – if it includes vigorous public debate, discussion and input. I don’t think comments on Facebook or Instagram are always reliable, nor do I think that letters from both sides really reach and educate the electorate.
Because we don’t get to do this at a City Council meeting, I call upon groups like Speak Up Newport and the CdMRA and Chambers of Commerce of Corona del Mar and Newport Beach to host panels. Not panels where Councilmember O’Neill describes his plans and ideas and takes a few questions, but a real, election forum-type panel with opposing sides getting equal time to present their concerns, along with O’Neill explaining his beliefs about why this plan could very well be the best thing for Newport Beach.
Some of these groups said they are working on it. I hope they follow through.
My friend of over forty (40) years passed away shortly after Christmas. I will call my friend “Al”. Al was elderly. Ill health for several years. Smart guy – one of the smartest I’ve known. Longtime Newport resident. We talked about all things Newport. Mostly by phone as Al’s health declined.
Several of our discussions involved the upcoming June 7 primary in which the direct election of the Newport Beach Mayor will be on the ballot.
At first, Al and I agreed that “Elect Our Mayor” had a nice ring – yes, democracy in action.
But as our discussions continued this fall and as we studied the issues, chinks in the armor of the catchphrase “Elect Our Mayor” began to appear.
–A desire to obtain/retain power? Power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely?
–Why was the signature gathering effort terminated, i.e., a conventional democratic means of gauging electorate interest and publicly looking at the pluses and minuses?
–What problem are we trying to solve, i.e., if it ain’t broke, …?
–It’s great for the Mayor’s “District,” but maybe not-so-great for the other Districts.
Isn’t it possible that after serving eight (8) years as a councilmember, the successful mayor candidate may be able to add on another eight (8) years as mayor for a total of sixteen (16) years on the council?
–Have we in the past provided one person with the right in that person’s “sole discretion” to (i) set City Council agendas and (ii) change the order of business on the agendas?
–Will the other Council folks be able to continue to add value or will the consolidation of authority result in less effective leadership for our other Districts?
–Is a “strong mayor” model best for our City where it is possible that he/she may lack appropriate training, education, and experience in municipal administration and finance? Is it possible that this model may tend to result in ill-advised decisions on hiring/firing of key positions? Will we be able to attract/retain accomplished municipal executives under this model?
–Is it an improvement to have one person’s judgment in place of the collective wisdom of seven?
Perhaps with additional study/research and changes to the text of this measure, some of the ideas expressed may be worthwhile.
But as we turn the page to the chapter entitled “2022,” my late friend, Al, has raised a number of legitimate questions about the “Elect Our Mayor” campaign. I am inclined to agree with Al that the City Charter on this issue has served us well for nearly seventy (70) years. The changes as presently proposed are not needed. I urge a “NO” vote on June 7.
Paul K. Watkins
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