LONG BEACH — City Manager-designate James C. Hankla does not take office until March 1, but the City Council already is discussing a way to trim his power to appoint key staff members.
On Tuesday, less than a week after Hankla named a Los Angeles Police Department commander as Long Beach's new police chief, the council voted 5-3 to consider amending the City Charter to give the City Council the power to confirm the appointment of department heads, including the police chief.
The charter specifies that the city manager appoint most department heads without any interference from the council. The charter prohibits council members from even attempting to influence the city manager in his hiring of any employee.
Councilmen Get Feedback
Last week Hankla chose Lawrence L. Binkley as police chief over four other candidates from within the ranks of the Long Beach Police Department. The choice--Hankla's first major decision as city manager--was greeted with grumbles from several council members, who said they would have preferred someone already on the local police force.
"I'm getting a lot of feedback from my constituents. There's been a lot of unhappiness about the fact that we had to go outside our department to get a chief," Councilman Edd Tuttle said at Tuesday's meeting.
Council members have complained that they had no role in the selection of Binkley, although they have been careful to say that they support both Hankla and Binkley, who also reports to work March 1.
"There isn't a more controversial item . . . than the selection of a police chief," Councilman Wallace Edgerton said in an interview. Edgerton, who proposed changing the charter, said that leaving the council out of the police chief selection process was in effect disenfranchising voters.
Edgerton, however, said the City Charter was to blame for exclusion of the council, and not Hankla. The new city manager "stretched it (the current selection process) as much as he could to make it as democratic as possible," Edgerton said, referring to an outside screening panel that was used to interview the candidates.
Hankla, the county's chief administrative officer, declined comment Wednesday on the council's proposed charter amendment.
Can Select His Own People
But Councilman Tom Clark, who opposed Edgerton's motion, noted that "one of the reasons he (Hankla) is coming here is he has a chance to select his own people, which he didn't have in the county." Council members Ray Grabinski, who called the "timing real poor," and Jan Hall also voted against the motion.
Voting in favor of the proposal were Edgerton, Tuttle, Evan Anderson Braude, Clarence Smith and Mayor Ernie Kell. Councilman Warren Harwood was absent.
The move asks the Charter Amendment Committee--consisting of all nine City Council members--to consider putting an amendment before voters in 1988.
Until the charter was amended by voters in 1980, the council had the power to confirm the selection of department heads, including the police chief. The charter now says that "neither the City Council nor any of its committees or members shall dictate or attempt to dictate, either directly or indirectly, the appointment of any person to office or employment by the city manager."
Last Appointment in 1979
Under the amended charter, the council can only confirm the city manager's appointment of two city officials, the assistant city manager and the director of oil properties.
Edgerton said that the last time the city appointed a police chief, in 1979, council members interviewed finalists and rejected then-City Manager John E. Dever's attempts to hire a chief from outside the department. Dever finally chose Charles B. Ussery, the city's first black chief, and the council confirmed his selection.
Ussery retired last November, and when Hankla began interviewing candidates for a new chief, council members were left out of the process entirely, Edgerton said. He added that the only person the council was allowed to interview was Binkley, shortly after he was appointed by Hankla as chief.