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Voters Poised to Modify Pasadena Power Structure

October 26, 1986|EDMUND NEWTON | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — Ask spokesmen on all sides about the three related propositions on the Nov. 4 ballot that offer voters choices about Pasadena's form of government and they get edgy. They start talking about their fears.

This is a troublesome trio.

There are fears, for example, that the city government will fall into the hands of a Chicago-style political machine. There are worries that "the ordinary guy" will not have a voice in the way Pasadena is run.

There are even fears that, because of confusion surrounding the three propositions, a rancorous, long-standing debate about the future of city government in the City of Roses may never be laid to rest.

'Some Confusion'

"My wonderment is at how the citizens will vote," said Jess Hughston, a member of the Board of City Directors. "I wonder if there may be some confusion there."

At issue is whether to keep Pasadena's 65-year-old system--with an appointed city manager making executive decisions--or to have a mayor chosen by the voters in an at-large election. Currently, the board chooses the mayor from one of its members.

Also at issue is an unusual provision in the City Charter that requires a "super majority"--five out of the seven city directors--to fire or overrule the city manager.

The history of the ballot initiatives goes back to a bitter debate last year over an assessment district, proposed by the board to levy yearly fees to pay for street repairs.

Grass-Roots Action

Leading the opposition then was a grass-roots homeowners group called Citizens for Representative Government. The organization forced the board to back down on the assessment district and, arguing that the present city government had brought "financial chaos for the city of Pasadena," circulated petitions to have the charter revisions placed on the ballot.

It was time for radical changes in the system, contended the homeowners group, still the most vociferous proponents of a City Hall shake-up.

"Anybody who's not a millionaire, a high officer in a financial institution or a member of certain clubs doesn't have a chance of being heard at City Hall," said Ozro Anderson, co-chairman of Citizens for Representative Government. "With a mayor elected citywide, City Hall would be more amenable to listening to ordinary citizens."

Though their two petition drives were unsuccessful, falling short of the required 15% support from the city's electorate, the public debate challenged the board to take a stand, said Charles McKenney, chairman of a specially appointed Charter Review Committee, which was charged by the board to report on the feasibility of fundamental changes at City Hall.

After about 20 meetings this year, including public hearings in each electoral district, the committee decided that a series of ballot initiatives were "the best way to put all of this to rest," McKenney said.

The board, in a surprise move even to some of its members, voted last July to accept the committee's recommendations and put Propositions BB, CC and DD on the ballot.

Admittedly, the stakes are not very high this time around. Two of the propositions are merely advisory, with no binding effect on the future shape of city government.

The third--amending the charter to require only a simple majority to fire or overrule the city manager--is about as controversial as Mom and apple pie. But strong voter sentiment on any of them could dictate changes in the Pasadena city government, city officials acknowledge.

Even City Manager Donald McIntyre favors dumping the super-majority rule, as do all the members of the Board of City Directors and all the members of the Charter Review Committee.

"From my point of view, it's an academic issue," said McIntyre of Proposition BB, for which a "yes" vote would reduce the number of board members that could fire or overrule him from five to four.

"If a city manager has to rely on the super-majority provision for his authority, then he's in trouble anyway," McIntyre said.

No one could say for sure how long the super-majority provision had been in effect.

"All I can say is that it has been around since before Mr. McIntyre was hired," said City Clerk Pamela Swift. "He was hired under those terms." McIntyre has held the job for 13 years.

"It was probably more symbolic than anything," McIntyre said. "It was probably intended to make clear to the community and to prospective city managers that the manager can stay independent of the board. The concept may have outlived its time."

According to the official sample ballot, published by the county registrar-recorder, there were no arguments submitted by any individuals or groups against Proposition BB.

Spurring Debate

However, propositions CC and DD, the two advisory matters on the ballot, have spurred a lot more debate. A "yes" vote on the first supports continuation of the city-manager system; a "yes" vote for the second supports direct, at-large election of a mayor.

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