Part of our Long Beach Needs A Mayor series…
Former City Council member Denis G. Kelly was very vocal for the support of the Mayoral Election referendum on the 2007 ballot. We all know what happened next: The referendum never passed and the issue faded into obscurity.
Mr. Kelly and I both agree that maybe today, with the way communication has changed (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs), perhaps we can make it work this time. He gave me permission to reprint his essays on the topic, which were originally published in the Long Beach Herald back in 2007. I believe his past efforts are something we should look to as inspiration and a starting point.
April 17, 2007
Long Beach Herald
Dear Mr. Miller:
Last week’s Herald again raised the issue as to whether the people of the City of Long Beach would be better served by an elected mayor, as opposed to an appointed city manager. While this issue has been talked about for years, it has never been put before the people of the city for a vote.
Now is the time for the people of this city to be given the opportunity to put this issue to rest. The history of the city’s government over the past eight years is one of dysfunction, borne of the system, not of any particular individual or individuals. In 1999, Ed Eaton retired as city manager and was replaced by Bruce Nyman. While I was a member of the city council from 2000 until 2006, I served with Bruce Nyman, Ed Eaton (he returned after Bruce Nyman left), Harold Porr III (who was selected after an exhaustive search), Glen Spiritis and Charles Theofan. After I left office, Charles Theofan was replaced with John Laffey, who then left, only to be replaced by Ed Eaton.
These past city managers are all highly competent people who clearly lacked the one indispensable asset for true and effective leadership — the mandate of the people. These individuals served at the whim of the five members of the city council, instead of serving a four year term with the support of a majority of thousands. As such, the city managers of the past eight years have been forced out for various political reasons, creating great instability. In many instances city councils have handcuffed city managers by exerting pressure on them to do what was politically expedient, not necessarily what was right.
An elected mayor will increase the possibility of administrative and fiscal stability. Over the past eight years we have had surpluses, deficits, zero percent tax increases, and a 25 percent tax increase. We have done very little over this time period to improve our infrastructure and, although a master plan has been completed for the city, there is still no vision for the future of our city.
If we had an election for mayor, I believe we would see many competent people seek the office. I also believe that a mayoral campaign would be more substantive than the most recent campaigns for council. There clearly would be more accountability with an elected mayor; “the buck” would actually stop someplace.
I believe the people of the City of Long Beach are intelligent and sophisticated enough to decide whether they want a mayor. This really is a decision that should not be left in the hands of five people who might see their power diminish by virtue of an elected mayor. I strongly support a referendum allowing the people to decide whether the City of Long Beach should have an elected chief executive. We should make every effort to place such a referendum on the ballot for November 2007. If the proposal passes, we then should draft and discuss amendments to our city charter necessary to effectuate such a change. We then should have our first campaign for mayor in the summer of 2009, with an election to take place in November 2009.
Clearly, the people of the City of Long Beach are capable of making such a decision, and should not be deprived of the right to do so.
Very truly yours,
Denis G. Kelly
May 29, 2007
Long Beach Herald
Dear Mr. Miller:
The best way to kill an idea is to send it to a committee.
This is just what was proposed by the guest opinion that appeared in the Herald last week. The former President of the City Council of the City of Long Beach proposed the establishment of a Charter Review Committee to review the entire city charter, which is something the City should ultimately do. However, the immediate issue for referendum is whether the people of Long Beach want an elected mayor or an appointed city manager to lead this City.
There should be a sense of urgency as to the issue. In the past eight years we have had great difficulty in hiring and retaining qualified people to be city manager. We are not the only city to be experiencing such a problem. The New York Times reported on January 11, 2007 that municipalities across the country are facing the same dilemma. Given our recent history with city managers, few qualified people will be interested in the position.
The public hearing on the referendum scheduled for Tuesday, June 5, 2007 at 7:00 p.m. before the City Council should give the public ample opportunity to comment.
Very truly yours,
Denis G. Kelly
October 22, 2007
Energy in the executive is a leading character and a definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks: It is not less essential to the study and administration of the laws, to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations, which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice, to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction and of anarchy. …A feeble executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution: And a government ill-executed, whatever it may be in theory must be in practice a bad government. …The circumstances which constitute safety in the republican sense are, first a due dependence on the people, secondly a due responsibility. The Federalist No. 70, dated March 15, 1788 by Alexander Hamilton to the People of the State of New York.
On Election Day, November 6, 2007, a referendum on the ballot will give the people of the City of Long Beach the opportunity to choose a Mayor – Council form of government. The people of the city should seize this opportunity to take control of their government. Enlarging the people’s direct authority over their government from a council with five at-large members, to a council and a mayor will give this City greater stability and accountability in our government.
Currently, the city manager serves at the pleasure of the council. Three of the five member council can choose and remove the city manager. Though some would argue that this procedure reflects the will of the people through a majority of the council, the practical effect is that it adds a layer of political intrigue between the people and their executive. It also quite simply allows the elected council members to defer responsibility to an unelected executive.
Theory and history are worthwhile in discussing government and its various forms. However, understanding the practical and the current reality are critical in making decisions after theory and history have been considered. In that sense, it is imperative that the people of the City of Long Beach choose to elect a mayor on November 4, 2007 because we are not going to find a competent, durable executive without an election. Our recent history tells us that not only is it difficult to find a competent manager, but it is also difficult to keep a competent manager, for reasons both practical and political.
Since 1999 the City of Long Beach has had eight city managers, one of whom has been City Manager on three different occasions. Only two of the eight were “outsiders.” Most, if not all, were highly qualified for the position, but only two were professional “city managers.” Five of the eight had been forced out of office not because of performance, but because of politics. At least two of the five forced out had employment contracts with the City. Most of the eight probably would have made good mayors, if they had been given the opportunity.
Practically, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find competent people who would take an appointed position to guide our city forward knowing that they could be removed by three members of an elected city council. Each of the individuals of any sitting city council are so concerned with their own re-election that the selection of the city manager is based on carrying out the short term political goals of each individual member of the council and his or her respective political party, and not necessarily on the administrative capabilities of the person chosen to manage the City. Our local recent history has shown that once an appointed city manager deviates from an understanding of who he is in relation to the political desires of three members of the council, the city manager has been removed.
We are a city who clearly needs a leader. Without an elected executive we have allowed political party bosses to ultimately take the reins of power. Political bosses are usually not elected by the public at large and, therefore, operate outside the checks and balances of good government, insulated from citizens they purport to serve by a layer of elected council members and a figurehead city manager.
With a mayoral form of government we will have campaigns, elections and accountability. In essence the people will conduct a three month open interview during the campaign, listening to the ideas and proposals of the candidates running for mayor. The new mayor with a four-year term would have the time to implement some of those ideas. If the mayor ever overreached, the City Council will be standing by to hold the mayor in check. Every fourth year, the election will be a referendum on the performance of the mayor; similarly the council every two years The election will also afford the community an opportunity to hear new proposals and ideas. This system is the ultimate in accountability. The mayor will be accountable for what he or she says and does, and the legislature, the council members, will be accountable for what it says and does. The people of the city will be responsible for its government — the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
Opponents of the referendum are concerned that in electing a mayor we will be giving too much power to one person. First of all, the people of this city should have more confidence in themselves to produce qualified candidates, elect a qualified candidate, and to decide whether the mayor should be re-elected. When did it become “dangerous” to rely on democracy? Elections are the great equalizer. If a candidate is acceptable to the electorate, he or she is elected; if they are not acceptable, they are not elected.
Second, we will not be giving too much power to the one person, the mayor, but where it belongs: to the people who vote. Nay sayers of an elected mayor are concerned that letting the people decide is just too uncertain and, therefore, a threat to special interests and political parties. Imagine the outcry if “an independent” candidate were elected!
The people of the City of Long Beach need a leader. We need someone who will represent the community, within the community and outside of the community. We need a leader who will be able to clearly state goals and a vision for this city, and, once stated, will have the authority and power to pursue those goals and that vision. Our present form of government hinders our ability to move forward. Some fear progress, but progress is inevitable. A leader who understands that and is able to discuss it with both his or her constituents and the communities Long Beach interacts with will have a tremendously positive impact on the city.
I have faith in the people of the City of Long Beach, and that is why I support this referendum, and that’s why I support the peoples’ choice to select their executive.
Denis G. Kelly