All Aboard the Charter Railroad

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The Charter Update Committee has been meeting and discussing changes in the city of Newport Beach’s “constitution.” A “constitutional convention” so to speak.

This charter committee, made up of seven residents appointed by the City Council, was formed to review the charter for “possible amendment and giving recommendations to the city council.” The City Council then can modify or not and the changes must go before the voters in November before they become effective.

The Newport Beach City Charter allows for a “commission” to be established by the council by “ordinance,” so of course the council formed a “committee” by “resolution,” a sign of things to come.

Usually, the intent of the council is to use the committee process to propose amendments, theoretically from the citizens of Newport Beach. This charter committee seems to only review charter amendments proposed by City Manager Dave Kiff.

According to the “constitutional convention’s” report to the council for July 10, there were 43 charter sections considered, and the committee recommended 31 sections be amended and seven others be repealed altogether.

City Council compensation was one of those considered. The committee did not address whether the past and current practice is legal or not, as I did in the June 15 Newport Indy. They also did not discuss the amount. All the committee did was recommend that the council’s “allowance” be called a “salary,” since right now it is against the City Charter to compensate the council, as they have been.

You would think that if the committee was truly representing the citizens of Newport, that they would have discussed whether the council should be paid, whether they should be allowed to take health benefits, whether the mayor should be compensated at 50 percent more than the rest of the council, whether the council should get an automatic cost-of-living pay increase (or at least have a vote on it, as required by non-charter cities), or – what with all the discussions of exorbitant public employee retirement benefits – whether the council should be getting a retirement benefit at all.

None of that was discussed.

The committee simply took “public input” from the six or so stalwart citizens who were watching, and approved the city manager’s recommendations with little or no discussion.

What could have been part of that discussion?

How about how Newport compares to other cities? According to the report from the 2010/2011 OC Grand Jury, Newport Beach’s council salary was second highest in the county, $71/month behind Irvine, and total compensation was fifth in the county. Or, put another way, Newport’s “allowance” was 2.5 times the county average, but the health benefits were only 1.3 times the county average.

I suspect the council won’t want to discuss its salary in the public deliberations on the charter changes, so it will most likely go to the ballot as recommended by the committee.

Other changes approved by the committee include: allowing closed meetings per the Brown Act, something the current charter does not allow at all; and making the Library Advisory Board advisory only, instead of allowing them to make the decisions, giving the city manager and library director sole discretion.

Another major departure from the current charter is in the conflict-of-interest provisions. The changes OK’d by the committee will allow the council to vote to benefit one of the other councilmembers, financially, as long as that councilmember doesn’t vote. There are also boring, but significant, changes that allow any designated employee to approve contracts, where now only the council can approve a contract.

Again, no discussion.

Nor did they come up with any ideas of their own to discuss and possibly put before the voters. I always liked the idea of requiring each councilman to not only have to live in his district to run, but also to win in his district. For example, termed out councilman Steve Rosansky didn’t win his district last time he ran, but did win citywide and therefore was seated.

But more on that idea in a future column.

So I guess public input was never the idea of the committee, only the appearance of public input.

It ‘s more like a Charter Railroad than a Charter Update Committee.

Peotter can be contacted at [email protected].


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