LONG BEACH — In an emotional session that included name-calling and raised voices, the City Council Tuesday tabled a proposal to limit campaign contributions in city elections and voted to form a blue-ribbon task force to study restructuring city government.
The move puts off at least until November a referendum proposing that the mayor be elected citywide and that a full-time council be created. Supporters had hoped for quick council approval and a spot on the June ballot.
"This will give citizens some more time to look at the issue," Mayor Ernie Kell said in endorsing the proposal for the task force, which passed unanimously.
The task force--to consist of 19 members--was charged with "reviewing the form of Long Beach city government with an emphasis on a citywide-elected mayor" and making a recommendation by April 15 with an eye toward a November ballot initiative.
"There are a number of very solid proposals on the table that need time to grow, be discussed, added to, subtracted from and massaged," said Councilman Marc Wilder, who introduced the proposal. "I think we've come a long way in the last year in formulating plans for the future, some of which are tremendously ambitious."
The issues of limiting campaign contributions and restructuring government have been intensely discussed since November, when a self-appointed citizens' committee proposed the idea of creating a full-time mayor and City Council to supplant the present system, which opponents contend makes the city manager too powerful.
Under the committee's proposal, the mayor would be elected citywide to a four-year term with council members serving full-time. Currently, council members are elected every four years by district and serve only part time, with the mayor selected every two years by council colleagues. The committee's proposal would substantially increase the salaries of the mayor and council as well as significantly increase the powers of the mayor.
The proposal revived previous calls for campaign controls that would limit contributions to $750 per council election, with a $1,500 ceiling on contributions for citywide offices. Some council members, fearing voters would reject a call for more powerful political officeholders without limits placed on the influence of special interests, attempted to link the two issues in a single ballot initiative.
"Some people who are gung-ho for the citywide mayor won't vote for it without the caps on contributions," Councilman Wallace Edgerton said.
In fact, it was the discussion of the campaign reform issue that brought the afternoon's most heated exchange, during which Kell called Councilman Tom Clark "a horse's ass." Clark had objected to the tabling of the campaign contributions measure, saying it was tantamount to burying it.
'That's Not the Motion'
"It may end up that way, but that's not the motion," said Kell, who later apologized for his outburst.
The motion to table was approved, 5-3, over the objections of Edgerton, Clark and Warren Harwood, with Councilman Jim Wilson absent.
"Anyone with an IQ above 75 knows that our campaigns are way out of control when it comes to money," Edgerton said shortly before the vote. "We are turning our political state houses into houses of prostitution. I'm telling you right now that I will not support any mayor-at-large proposal without campaign reform."
Given the responsibility of the task force, he may not have to.
After receiving assurances from the mayor that the task force members would have "total freedom to look at anything they want to look at," Edgerton voted for it.
He said in an interview after the meeting that he would appoint someone to the task force who would raise the issue of limiting campaign contributions as part of any government restructuring.
Task Force Appointments
The task force will consist of four members appointed by the mayor, one appointed by each other member of the council, and the heads of the seven strategic task forces of the Year 2000 Committee, which has recently advised the city of its projections for the future.
"It is ironic that in effect we . . . brought it back on the table," Edgerton said of the financing limits.
Reaction among those at the meeting varied.
"You're going to find that this task force will go over the same ground that we traveled," said Alex R. Bellehumeur, chairman of Citizens to Evaluate a Full-Time Mayor and City Council, which proposed the reorganization in November. "It will be doing the same thing we've done, but in a more formalized manner."
Nonetheless, he said, he supported the task force's formation.
Others were less generous. Sid Soloman, president of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, which early on had been pushing for the political reorganization, said that his group could not support any call for a full-time mayor that was not accompanied by campaign reform.
"We will fight it tooth and nail," Soloman said. "You (will) have a mayor-at-large (system) in which special interests carry the election."