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Most Want Major Changes; Kell Calls It 'Good Compromise' : Council Hits Full-Time Mayor Plan

April 27, 1986|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A proposal to give this city a $67,500-a-year, full-time mayor seems destined for a rocky ride to the November ballot, if it makes the ballot at all.

The plan, completed last week by a city task force, drew substantial fire and limited praise.

Only one member of the nine-person City Council, Mayor Ernie Kell, immediately endorsed the proposal, calling it a skillful compromise. Two other members, Warren Harwood and Eunice Sato, rejected the plan. Harwood characterized it as an invitation to "machine politics," while Sato called it a waste of taxpayers' money.

Most council members said the plan appears to be a step in the right direction--toward stronger elected city leadership. But they said they couldn't endorse it in its present form.

A majority of the council, which must decide by Aug. 8 whether to place the measure or a version of it before voters this fall, has repeatedly said it favors replacement of the current ceremonial mayor arrangement with a full-time mayor elected citywide. It appointed the task force in January to analyze such a proposal.

'Golden Ribbon Cutter'

But several council members said the task force plan does not go far enough in shifting administrative authority now held by the city manager to the mayor.

"I think we'd be creating a golden ribbon cutter," said Councilman Marc A. Wilder. The plan "leaves the real power in the hands of the city manager," who is not directly accountable to the public, Wilder said.

Likewise, Councilwoman Jan Hall said she does not want to put a plan before voters that, by giving the mayor legislative leadership but leaving all administrative leadership with the manager, would "create a two-headed monster where there is no single individual who is responsible to the voters who has the power to make things happen."

"If the mayor and city manager point fingers at one another and say, 'It's his fault,' then what have we gained?" she said.

Under the present council-manager, or "strong manager" form of government, the part-time council sets policy while the professional city manager prepares the annual budget, hires department heads and runs day-to-day city activities.

Selected by Colleagues

The mayor, who is a council member elected only by voters of one district, is now selected every two years by council colleagues. The mayor is paid $13,800 a year compared to $12,600 for other council members.

Council members have not been elected citywide since 1976, when voters implemented district elections.

The task force plan would leave the city manager's authority intact, while creating a full-time mayor elected citywide.

The full-time mayor would have one strong, new legislative power: the right to veto council actions. The mayor would preside over council meetings but would not vote. And, as head of the Legislative Department, the mayor would be able to attach recommendations to the annual budget prepared by the city manager before it reaches the council.

Wilder, Hall and Councilman Wallace Edgerton all said they would like to see the mayor have at least some control over preparation of the budget, where much city power lies. Despite his support for the plan, Kell made the same point. And Councilman Edd Tuttle, who was on vacation and unavailable for comment, has said the same thing in previous interviews.

Kell, Wilder and Edgerton also said a full-time mayor should be able to appoint the city manager, and perhaps the city's department heads, so there would be no doubt who is the boss at City Hall.

'Bit of a Paper Tiger'

"I think this proposal is a bit of a paper tiger . . . because the mayor really would not have control over what happens at City Hall," Edgerton said. "This is helpful but it doesn't go far enough. Is the police chief or director of the Public Works Department going to listen to the man who can hire and fire them, the city manager, or to some ribbon-cutting mayor."

But Kell said that, in practice, a full-time mayor would have an impact on the budget and other administrative matters, even though such authority would not be granted in the City Charter.

The city manager is hired by the council, and a manager who refuses to work with the mayor probably would be fired, Kell said.

Overall, Kell said, the task force plan is "a good compromise. I like the idea of leaving the nine council districts as they are and giving the mayor veto power."

But that veto power is the main objection that Thomas Clark, a 20-year councilman and three-time mayor, and Councilman James Wilson said they have to the proposal.

Both want a full-time mayor who would sit on a City Council expanded to 11 members, voting on all issues but holding no veto power.

'A Positive Role'

"The mayor needs to be a voting member of the council because that gives the mayor a positive role, while the veto tends to be a negative role," Clark said. "When you sit there in a heated (council) session and you have an audience out there, the mayor needs to stand up and be counted like everybody else."

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