The "Direct Election of Mayor" Stampede Begins
As we head toward the celebration of Independence Day, July 4th, the agenda for the Costa Mesa City Council meeting to be held on Tuesday, July 3rd, became available on the city web site. Of special interest on this particular agenda is the next-to-last item, the debate of whether or not to directly elect the position of mayor at some point in the future. This will certainly provide us with some pre-4th fireworks. I thought it was curious to place such an important issue on the agenda at a meeting almost certain to be sparsely attended because of the holiday. However, former mayor Gary Monahan was very specific about it when he proposed the change.
KIM BARLOW'S REPORT
I scrolled down through the staff report prepared by City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow for the council to consider on Tuesday. That report, which can be reached by clicking here, provides some very interesting food for thought. As usual, Ms. Barlow has provided plenty of information for the council to consider. For example, she goes into an exhaustive analysis of the balancing of terms of council members and a mayor, depending on the circumstances of the election which approves the position.
Paraphrasing Ms. Barlow, here are a few pearls gleaned from her report (the emphasis is mine):
1- Generally, an "elected" mayor has the same powers as an "appointed" mayor. However, an elected mayor, "with the approval of the city council, shall make appointments to boards, commissions and committees unless otherwise specifically provided by statute." This means that an elected mayor selects individuals for appointments, but subject to the City Council's "right to reject mayoral appointments''. These appointments include "regional boards, commissions, and committees" and all "appointments to city council subcommittees." She goes on to tell us that the City Council may withhold approval of an appointment submitted to it by the mayor, but may not dictate to the mayor who the appointee must be. She also tells us an elected Mayor's power extends to the power to appoint members of the City's Planning Commission, but subject to the approval of the City Council. In my mind, that's a lot of power to place in the hands of one individual.
2- The term of such an elected mayor could be two or four years, depending on what the voters choose.
3- On the subject of salary of a directly elected mayor, Ms. Barlow indicates that an elected mayor may receive a salary in addition to the salary established for members of the council. She goes on to tell us that any such additional compensation is unlimited if it is established by the voters. Yikes!
4- On the subject of timing of such an election, Ms. Barlow provides extensive analysis and cost figures. She states that, "The estimated cost for our City to conduce a 'stand-alone election' is about $199,000". Later she further states that, "The cost of a consolidation election is estimated to be about $90,000 to $105,000."
5- There is no budget for a municipal election in the 2007-2008 budget, so an appropriate budget adjustment would have to be made, depending on the type of election anticipated.
If you're interested in the other details of Ms. Barlow's report I invite you to click on the link I provided in the second paragraph of this entry and review it in it's entirety.
I'm left with many questions about this subject but, in my view, the two most important to me are the following:
1 - Why is this change necessary?
2 - How will the direct election of the position of mayor improve the way the city is managed?
I need to be convinced that changing the system that has worked for more than a half century is essential and will make a significant improvement in how things are managed. Former Mayor Gary Monahan mumbled something about this position giving Costa Mesa more stature among the other cities in Orange County. Well, when I look at the list of the six cities in Orange County who have directly elected mayors - Anaheim, Irvine, Garden Grove, Orange, Santa Ana and Westminster - nothing jumps out at me as those cities having any particular elevated stature among the others simply because they directly elect the mayor. Anaheim gets a disproportionate amount of attention because of the recreation venues within it's borders. Irvine has gotten much attention because of it's growth, The Great Boondoggle, er, Park and because it had an egomaniac at the helm as mayor for a long time - the Emperor Agran. Miguel Pulido in Santa Ana is certainly not a good example of why an elected mayor is a great idea.
WHAT IS MONAHAN'S MOTIVE?
It's interesting that former Mayor Monahan is the moving force behind this initiative. A cynical guy might suspect that he got very comfortable at the municipal trough during his twelve years on the City Council and misses the significant benefits that come with a council position. I'm suspect he wouldn't be pursuing this change if he didn't think he had a lock on the position. And, if memory serves me correctly, didn't Monahan step down from the position of mayor not too long ago because his schedule was too busy? I wonder what's changed.
THE DEVIL'S IN THE DETAILS
Not addressed in Barlow's missive to the council is the question of a sitting council member running successfully for the office of elected mayor. If a council member with two years remaining on his or her term decides to run for mayor, must he or she abandon that seat first? How would that vacant position be filled? Would another special election be necessary to fill the unexpired term? Would one of the vote-getters from the election be automatically appointed? What about term limits for this position?
WHY I WOULD VOTE "NO" TODAY
At this point, I'm not inclined to think favorably about this change. Even though the council is currently controlled by people I think are taking it in the wrong direction, I don't see how the direct election of the mayor would improve things. Quite the contrary, I see the real opportunity for corruption with such a change. The opportunities for cronyism and control of the city agenda by one person - a dictator, as it were - makes this a bad idea. And besides, I'm not sure I want to make such a change in this city just to provide health care benefits to a former mayor's brood and to pad his city pension.
This issue is very important to every resident of this city because it will fundamentally change the way the city does business. I suggest those residents with an opinion or questions communicate with the city council and/or present themselves before the council Tuesday night to express their views. I have the impression that the council majority will attempt to stampede this through the process to have it placed on the next state-wide election, the primary in February. To make that happen, even though it's more than a half a year away, many things need to happen fast to meet statutory requirements - see Ms. Barlow's report for the details.
Tuesday's council meeting should make for some very interesting viewing.