Michael Henn: Meet the New Mayor

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On Tuesday, Councilman Michael Henn was selected by his fellow councilmemers to be the mayor of Newport Beach for the next year.

First elected to the City Council in 2006, Henn was reelected without opposition last month. His professional career is in finance, and he has been chief financial officer of two Fortune 500 companies, the Vons Cos. and KB Home.

Henn was interviewed by Newport Beach Indy Editor Roger Bloom.


1. What is your assessment of the city’s financial condition?

The city is in excellent financial condition, as evidenced by the AAA bond rating recently awarded by all three major rating agencies. That’s the highest rating they give, and only five cities in the entire state of California carry that rating from all three agencies.

In addition, the city was recently able to successfully sell the bonds needed to fully fund the completion of our new Civic Center, even in the currently turbulent credit markets.

That said, we still face difficult challenges to balance our budget going forward, and to correct the structural imbalance in cost of employee retirement benefits. I am confident that, with the very able leadership of Dave Kiff and our senior staff, we will be able to solve these problems in partnership with the employee associations, without significantly impacting the high level of public safety and other services that make our city special.


2. What are the prospects for the proposed Lower Bay dredging project after the Port of Long Beach declined to take the material deemed unsuitable for disposal at the offshore ocean disposal site?

The port actually indicated that there were other projects in line before ours, including the Rhine Channel. It’s possible that one of those other projects could drop out. Therefore, there remains an outside chance that an opportunity with the port will re-open.

In the event it does not, we are working on alternatives that will minimize financial and environmental impacts of alternatives for dealing with the unsuitable material. Our staff is working hard with able assistance of the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal, county and state agencies, and we hope to have solutions identified within the next several months.


3. What is your favorite sport to watch? Why?

Our family is originally from Chicago, and we still carry strong loyalties to the baseball Cubs. But I would have to say that football is our favorite sport to watch.

The Chicago Bears and the USC Trojans are our teams. We see the Bears play a few times a year in Chicago (including last Sunday’s game), and are hoping for a playoff run this year; although, last Sunday’s performance wasn’t confidence-inspiring, to say the least.


4. What would you like the city’s pension system to look like in five years?

At a minimum, we need to assure that all of our employees are paying the employee share of pension costs.

The city, in partnership with our employee associations, was able to negotiate partial contributions from all employees this year, for the first time in a very long time. These changes, in conjunction with elimination of salary increases and other factors, will result in significant reductions in take-home pay for our employees over the next two years, and we appreciate their sacrifices.

Nevertheless, we need to continue partnering with our associations to increase their pension contributions to the full employee share over the next few years, and to significantly change the benefit levels and contributions for all new employees. These changes should result in a structural solution that corrects the current imbalance in the benefit levels and costs over the long run without using the city’s existing reserves.

Then, we will also have to keep an eye on statewide changes and mandates, such as the possibility of introducing defined contribution plans, as we consider other changes.


5. We hear a lot about the challenges facing the city, but what do you see as the biggest opportunity right now?

I believe that, by virtue of the continuity and great working relationships among the members of our current council, we have a real opportunity over the next 12 months to put in place long-term plans for generational solutions to some of the most difficult problems facing the city.

This would include, for example, the extension of the John Wayne airport settlement agreement; producing a master plan for the maintenance, and improvement (including the funding) of our tidelands, including the upper bay, the lower bay and our beaches; as well as laying plans for the revitalization of the neglected and decaying parts of our great city.

There may be other such major projects, and the council will be taking up that issue early in the new year, as it sets its priorities for 2011. I want to make sure we organize our time, energy and staff support to allow a strong focus on long-term planning.


6. Will the council be taking up the question of fees for private piers and docks? If yes, what is your opinion of the idea? If no, why not?

In my view, the city has shirked its duty for a long, long time in managing and setting fees for use of the public tidelands in our harbor, and we have already set about correcting that neglect, as you know. The issue of fees for private piers and docks is one of many such fee analyses that the council’s ad hoc committee on harbor fees is currently tackling.

Taken together, this is a large and very complex task, and each harbor use needs to be separately analyzed to determine the right answer. I do not have a view on what the right answer is for private piers and docks, and will wait to be informed by careful analysis of the facts, the law and city policy before reaching a conclusion.


7. What is your primary goal for the city in the coming year?


To put in place the long term plans for generational issues facing the city, as noted above.


8. What is your favorite holiday movie or video? Why?

My favorite holiday movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart. It’s a great allegory about how we all need to resolve the severe challenges that we encounter. It also has the very best kiss scene ever filmed. We watch this movie several times every holiday season, and it still inspires us.


9. What can the city do to revitalize Mariners Mile?

Mariners Mile is one of the neglected areas of the city that clearly needs revitalization. While I may have some ideas in this regard, I prefer for the city to organize a process using professional support, similar to how we are handling the Lido Marina Village land use study. That type of process should yield a full set of facts and professionally evaluated alternatives that the major landholders and the city can coalesce around as blueprint to move forward.


10. Who would you most like to meet someday?

I have met one sitting president of our country, and would dearly love to repeat that experience. Regardless of one’s political leanings, meeting the president is a real thrill and a chance to make a personal evaluation of the individual that most influences the course of our nation and the world.



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