Council Forms Election Reform Committee Amid Concern Over Members

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An item about forming an ad hoc committee about election reform sparked some debate at the Newport Beach City Council meeting this week, not about its subject of study, but about who should take part in the group.

Councilman Jeff Herdman pulled the item from the consent calendar on Tuesday.

“While I’m please to see that this (ad hoc) committee on election reform is about to be re-initiated, I’m at the same time very disappointed that I’m not being given the opportunity to work on this most important topic,” Herdman said. “I have researched, studied, and am prepared to do this work, and I have been for several years, yet I’m being deprived of doing so.”

Jeff Herdman
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

“A decision has been made to exclude me and it just isn’t right,” Herdman added.

Herdman outline four specific elements that need to be dealt with: Enforcement of election laws; slate mail committees; registration of lobbyists; and fundraising.

Ultimately, he moved to approve formation of the ad hoc committee as staff recommended, which included Mayor Diane Dixon’s appointments of Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill, Councilman Brad Avery and Councilwoman Joy Brenner onto the committee.

Brenner offered to step down to allow Herdman on the committee, but the idea didn’t receive support on the dais. City Attorney Aaron Harp confirmed that Herdman can submit his research without his opinion as public comment to the committee.

In his motion, Herdman also recommended that another item about creating an ad hoc committee to study registering lobbyists be combined with the election reform ad hoc committee.

Council voted 6-1, with Herdman dissenting.

A handful of residents spoke up during public comment in support of adding Herdman to the committee.

It was part of Herdman’s campaign and he was part of the original committee, which formed in 2017 but never met, said one local.

Avery and O’Neill haven’t expressed an interest in this issue, several argued. And they have used the same consultant, Dave Ellis, as other Team Newport members who have been investigated by the FPCC, a few pointed out.

The only reasons she can see for keeping him away from the committee are unethical, resident Jennifer McDonald added: Either because Herdman filed FPCC complaints about campaign finance laws against Team Newport members in 2014, or because a complaint was recently filed against Herdman by longtime Team Newport supporter, Bob Rush, about information shared on Herdman’s newsletter.

It’s a trivial complaint and is being used as “payback,” McDonald said.

Rush also spoke during public comment during Tuesday’s Council meeting and strongly disagreed that Herdman was a good choice for the committee.

“It’s not trivial, it’s law,” Rush said. “It’s not for one person to determine which laws they follow and which laws they don’t follow.”

Rush called Herdman’s behavior “unethical,” and that “leaking information” to an attorney who, at the time, was in the middle of a lawsuit against the city, is also not trivial.

Including Herdman on a campaign reform ad hoc committee would be the wrong way to start it off, Rush said.

Dixon said she nominated those three Council members for the ad hoc committee because their campaigns have not had any interactions with the FPCC, Dixon confirmed. They are objective, impartial and independent, she added.

“I trust that they can give due diligence to considering ways to strengthen…our campaign and election lobbying laws, where needed, and report back to the Council with their recommendations,” Dixon emphasized. “This is an effort to bring reform.”

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