Commission Agrees to End Individual Council Liaison Pairings

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After voicing their displeasure and denying it last month, Harbor Commissioners unanimously changed their minds this week and agreed to terminate their practice of the formally pairing commissioners with Newport Beach City Council members.

Commissioners voted 7-0 to put an end to the one-on-one liaison relationship they have had with council members for about six years. The harbor focused board was the only city commission or committee to have this type of association with council.

The idea to abolish the pre-assigned relationships was originally brought up at the July 12 Harbor Commission meeting.

In July, commissioners heard the idea, much to their chagrin, and voted 5-1 to deny the recommendation to abolish the practice. Vice Chairman Dave Girling was the lone supportive vote.

“For the record, I’m not happy about it,” Chairman Bill Kenney said before the vote last month.

When asked why it was being abolished in July, Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller said he couldn’t speak for the city attorney’s office and did not know the reasoning.

The commissioners had some questions about what would be allowed and how they would communicate with council members in the future, but Miller said he was “stepping into dangerous territory” and a call to the city attorney’s office would clear things up.

Commissioners questioned why this action was brought about and voiced their disapproval of the change.

Commissioner Paul Plank brought it up during the Harbor Commission update at the July 20 Corona del Mar Residents Association meeting.

“It’s a mechanism for communication,” Blank explained at the time. “It was intended to reduce the number of surprises that happen, both at the commission level and the council level.”

“I don’t know what went wrong,” Blank said at the July CdM meeting. “Without a sufficient explanation and without any information from them.”

They wanted a “decent explanation,” he said.

In between the two meetings, commissioners were not “actively practicing” the pairing arrangement, Blank noted.

“This is an arrangement for which we have been wisely praised,” he noted last month.

When the issue returned to the Harbor Commission on Wednesday commissioners still had questions and City Manager Dave Kiff was on hand to answer them.

The big concern is the formalization of the “pairings” arrangement from a legal perspective,  Kiff noted.

“The formalization of that structure is probably something we want to steer clear of,” he said.

Something that is more formal and is direct communication to the entire council, is more appropriate, Kiff explained.

Kiff provided a few options: A commissioner reporting regularly to the City Council meetings or study sessions, and/or an informal talk with a council member (like any citizen) on an individual basis.

“An alternative plan that hopefully will meet the same goals,” Kiff said.

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