CERRITOS — One of the originators of a charter amendment limiting City Council terms is asking a state commission to investigate the manner in which Councilman Donald Knabe last spring obtained a legal opinion indicating that both he and Mayor Daniel Wong could run for reelection next April.
Margurette Nicholson asserts that Knabe, chief deputy to County Supervisor Deane Dana, misused his office when he asked the county counsel's office for an analysis of how the amendment's two-term limit affects incumbent terms.
"I feel Don used his position of power to perpetuate his power," said Nicholson, who this week filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento.
Knabe called Nicholson's allegation "ludicrous," denying that his request for the opinion represented any conflict of interest. The two-term incumbent added that he is not planning to run for reelection, and even if he were, would first test the amendment in court.
"I wouldn't run on the basis of that opinion or any other opinion," Knabe said. "Until you litigate, you'd be crazy to run."
Wong Won't Challenge
Wong, also finishing his second term next spring, said he will not mount a legal challenge to the term restrictions, which take effect in April. Should someone else do so, Wong said he would then decide whether to pursue reelection.
Knabe said that he, through Dana, asked the county attorney's office for a general opinion because the issue of possible term limits had come up in regard to both the Los Angeles City Council and county supervisor positions.
The counsel's reply, without making any mention of Cerritos, concludes that charter restrictions such as the city's apply to future terms of office starting after the amendment's adoption, rather than to terms served before its adoption.
Chief Assistant County Counsel Jerry Crump said his office routinely renders advice to high-ranking county employees. "The question comes to us and we answer it." He called the charter query a "hypothetical question," adding that the analysis was just one attorney's opinion.
Cerritos City Atty. J. Kenneth Brown is also preparing an opinion on whether the charter change applies to Wong and Knabe because "I anticipated the question would surface."
Brown said the amendment's language does not clearly address incumbent terms and therefore does not preclude Wong and Knabe from filing candidate's papers. But he, too, said that if the issue were forced, it would have to be settled in court.
If either councilman does try to run again, Nicholson said she will respond with a legal challenge.
Approved last November as a ballot initiative called Proposition H, the charter change prevents City Council members from serving more than two consecutive, four-year terms. They may run again after a two-year break.
The proposal stirred considerable controversy, with proponents arguing it was necessary to break up an entrenched power clique on the council. Opponents, including all but one council member, contended it would disrupt city government, replacing practiced veterans with unschooled novices. They complained that it would force four of five council members out of office within two years.
Knabe, who says he is considering a bid for the state Senate, said he recently released the county letter because other council members were talking about the term limits in relation to next spring's election.