LONG BEACH — Despite strong reservations by two members and lukewarm support from another, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to place a proposal for a $67,500-a-year, full-time mayor on the November ballot.
Under the proposal, the mayor, who is currently chosen by council colleagues and paid $13,800 annually, would be elected by voters beginning in June, 1988.
The council, though divided on how much power to give a full-time mayor, finally agreed that the proposal was a step in the right direction because it would place responsibility for leadership on citywide issues in the hands of one person chosen by voters from all council districts.
That leadership is now divided among nine city council members, all of whom are elected by district.
Voters rejected by a 3-1 margin a full-time mayor proposal in 1982. Sponsors of that proposal said concerns about additional government costs killed the plan. The city has not provided a cost estimate for the plan approved Tuesday, but the Long Beach Area Citizens Involved activist group has said it would cost $325,000 to implement.
Weaker Version Approved
The council debated for 2 1/2 hours before approving a weaker version of a plan forwarded to it in April by a special city task force. That task force, in turn, had modified a proposal that a citizens' committee presented to the council in January. The original proposal called for a sharp reduction in the authority of the city manager, who would have lost many important duties to the mayor and City Council.
While not going as far as recommended, the ballot proposal does give the mayor greater control over the budget. As the chief administrative officer of a new Legislative Department, the mayor would receive the budget from the city manager two weeks before the council and would submit it to the council with recommendations. The mayor could then veto budget items, and a two-thirds council vote would be required to override the veto.
On all other matters, however, the mayoral veto could be overridden by a simple council majority. Thus, the veto would have no effect other than to force reconsideration of an issue. The task force had recommended a two-thirds override on all issues.
"It's not quite what I'd like to have. I don't think it's quite what anybody wants to have," said Mayor Ernie Kell, who has favored the stronger veto power for the mayor. "(But) I think it's a fair compromise. . . . I think the voters will approve it."
No Council Vote by Mayor
The council plan would make the mayor the presiding officer of the council, which would still draw its other members from nine districts. But it does not give the mayor a vote on the council.
Because of that, Councilman Thomas Clark, a longtime advocate of a strong mayoralty, said the full-time mayor would not be in the best position to lead. A non-voting mayor with only veto power would lead by negative example, he said.
The council's final plan, with its weak veto, will give the mayor too little power, Clark said. And the months-long effort that produced the compromise reminded him, Clark said, of the elephant that "went into labor . . . and gave forth a mouse." But he said he would support the plan because the city needs a professional mayor.
Councilwoman Jan Hall also vigorously opposed giving the mayor a veto rather than a vote on the council, but she eventually endorsed the overall plan. And new Councilman Ray Grabinski said he has seen "no great mandate from the public" for a change in government.
But Councilman Wallace Edgerton said Long Beach desperately needs a full-time mayor to represent the city in discussions with Pacific Rim trading partners, many of whom feel more comfortable dealing with such a "figurehead."
Two-Thirds Override Opposed
Edgerton and Grabinski had warned, however, that they would vote against a plan that gave the mayor a veto that requires a two-thirds council vote to override. That veto would have weakened council members' and district representation, they said.
Elsewhere, response to the council's revised plan was mixed.
Sid Solomon, president of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, said his 600-member community group will oppose the plan because it would give the full-time mayor too little new power, while leaving in the hands of the appointed city manager important duties such as drafting the budget and appointment of department heads, and would cost too much. LBACI had also favored limits on city campaign contributions to guard against expensive mayoral races, but that provision was not in the task force plan and was not considered by the council.
Alex Bellehumeur, chairman of the citizens' committee that brought the issue to the council in January and a member of the city task force, said he was disappointed that the mayor would not have a strong veto, but he added:
"This is, without a doubt, better than the system we have right now. Now, at least, we have the opportunity to vote on the issue. But we have to maintain a high level of motivation during the campaign, because it's going to be a lot tougher than getting the proposal to this point."
Under the present system, the mayor, whose extra duties are only ceremonial, is selected every two years by the council. Council members are paid $12,600, with the mayor receiving a $1,200 differential.
The new plan would increase council salaries by $4,275 a year to $16,875, which is 25% of the mayor's proposed salary.