Op-Ed: Lessons Learned From Gas Tax Decisions

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By Keith Curry / former Newport Beach Mayor

Due to resident action, the city council reversed its decision and decided to accept the street improvement funds generated by Newport Beach taxpayers. 

Some thanks are in order. 

First, to Councilmembers Diane Dixon and Brad Avery for not being part of this misguided decision from the start. 

Second to Councilman Jeff Herdman who recognized the mistake of this action and opened the door for the council to reconsider the matter. 

Third, to the leadership of Mayor Kevin Muldoon, who called a special meeting so that the city’s funding application could be submitted on time. 

Finally, to the other three councilmembers who reversed themselves and voted to accept Newport’s gas tax revenues.

We should take some time to reflect on the lessons learned.

First, as Councilman Herdman has said, decisions that cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands should not spring spontaneously from the council dais but should be subject to review by the Finance Committee and have a detailed fiscal report by staff.

Second, the council is a poor place to express positions on partisan state and federal issues. The job of the council is to be a fiduciary on behalf of city taxpayers. This role simply does not lend itself to involvement in partisan politics. 

Third, the council should make decisions based on common sense, not some effort to posture politically. Councilman Peotter’s role is instructive here. He first made the motion to approve the application, then voted against his own motion, then sent out an e-mail claiming credit for the rejection of the funds, calling them “free money,” then published an op-ed claiming to stand on principle and suggesting the amount in question: $480,000, was not significant, and finally, 72 hours later, abandoned his “principle” and led efforts to reconsider the matter.  

At the same time, Duffy Duffield on behalf of Peotter was falsely claiming that if the recall moved forward, road repairs would be defunded. Peotter is perhaps the poster boy for partisan political posturing which is animating much of the recall fervor.

Finally, the most important lesson is that the public must pay attention. This decision happened in the middle of August, without involved citizens writing to the media, e-mail chains and some timely comments from Tom Johnson and Barbara Venezia, the public would not have been aware of this.

The hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from residents like you made the difference. 


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