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Prop. F Would Give Pasadena Elected Mayor, Other Changes

June 05, 1988|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — In the late 1970s, the major complaint about municipal government here was that citywide elections for the Board of Directors made it difficult for minority residents to get elected.

Voters decided to remedy that problem in 1980 by changing the City Charter so that each of the city's seven districts would elect its own representative.

But the new district election system sparked complaints that no one on the board was accountable to the entire city.

Now comes Proposition F on Tuesday's ballot, the latest effort to create a city government that is both representative and accountable.

Supporters contend the measure would provide a more diverse and responsive form of government. Opponents say it would overly politicize the city, increase campaign costs and imperil the volunteer spirit that long has been the hallmark of Pasadena politics.

If Proposition F passes, it would:

* Institute a citywide election for mayor that would take place at the same time as the U.S. presidential election. If no candidate received a majority, a runoff between the top two candidates would take place on the fifth Tuesday after the election.

* Create an eighth district to avoid ties that could result from the addition to the board of a voting mayor.

* Increase the pay of board members from $50 a meeting to as much as $1,200 a month. The mayor's pay would be up to $2,400 a month. The board is expected to set the pay rate after the election.

* Change the name of the Board of Directors to the City Council.

The impetus for Proposition F began in 1979, when the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of 11 community organizations, sued the city over the practice of electing directors citywide.

Under that system, a candidate would run in a primary in his or her district. The top two candidates then would face a runoff in which residents throughout the city voted. A candidate could win a majority of the votes in his or her district but lose in the citywide race.

Dale L. Gronemeier, the lead attorney in the ACLU case, said that minority and low-income candidates in the largely minority northwest area suffered because they could win the primary in their district but lose the general election, because they could not get enough votes citywide.

The suit was declared moot in 1980, when voters approved a measure placed on the ballot by the city that replaced the citywide vote with district elections.

But by 1985, complaints about the district election system and city government in general began to surface. The catalyst was an attempt by the city to impose an assessment on property to pay for street and sewer improvements.

Movement Sparked

Residents were outraged by the proposal and it eventually was dropped. But it sparked a movement by a group called Citizens for Representative Government to oust City Manager Donald McIntyre, who supported the levy, and replace him with an elected mayor.

The group thought an elected mayor would be more accountable and responsive to residents than a city manager hired by the board.

The group launched an initiative drive but failed to gather enough signatures to force a vote. The board, however, formed a charter-study committee that put two advisory issues on the ballot in 1986.

The first asked voters if Pasadena's mayor should be elected rather than rotated among board members, as is the case now. The question won the support of 18,833 voters and was opposed by 13,860.

The second asked if the city should continue having a "council-manager" form of government, with a non-elected city manager making executive decisions. Maintaining the present system was supported by 22,575 voters and opposed by 9,130.

After more than a year of study, the charter committee took those recommendations and drafted Proposition F.

Opponents of the proposition, who have banded together in a group called Pasadenans for Sound Government, say the measure would open the door to partisan politics, increase campaign expenses and attract professional politicians.

Bess Licher, who heads the group, said that linking the mayoral election to a presidential election would invite outsiders to become involved in local politics.

Pasadena elections would become enmeshed in the major state and national races and candidates would be tempted to become aligned with party "slates" to take advantage of mass mailers and money from the various political parties, she said.

A mayoral election would also be expensive, possibly limiting the field to those who could win the financial support of businesses and special interests, Licher said. She said a mayoral campaign could cost as much as $350,000, or seven times the approximately $50,000 it can cost to run for a seat on the board.

Licher said raising the pay of board members would be an open invitation to professional politicians motivated more by their own self-interest than by community needs. She said the volunteer system prevents this.

Licher said that although the current pay is low, it could be raised in the future.

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