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Professor Lists Potential Agenda for Political Reform of Irvine

November 25, 1990

Irvine needs comprehensive political reform of its electoral and governing processes. Since municipal elections will not be held until November, 1992, the city has a two-year opportunity to fully investigate, discuss and analyze a wide range of reforms designed to respond to Irvine's changing political needs and to enhance the quality of democratic governance in Irvine.

Irvine's political needs have changed because Irvine has changed. The city is five times bigger than it was at incorporation in terms of population and the percentage of the city that is built out. And we are only at about the halfway point of the development projected by the city's master plan.

Growth has precipitated new demands for city and community services, along with new expectations for effective and ethical political representation. As Irvine struggles to define itself as politically independent of the county's largest landholder, we should take full advantage of this two-year political hiatus to respond sensibly to our changing political needs.

There are obvious candidates for the city's potential agenda of political reform. First, the city needs to develop a democratic and effective procedure for political succession, replacing the notorious Measure D.

Second, limiting the terms of council members, as we limit the number of terms served by the directly elected mayor, might be a sensible way to enhance the opportunity for many other Irvine residents to serve their city.

Third, we need to consider moving away from at-large elections for City Council to a system of district elections to guarantee representation for every region of the city.

Fourth, as the city continues to grow, we might also expand the size of the City Council to six elected council members and an elected mayor.

Fifth, the city needs to address the problem of escalating campaign spending and the growing tendency for the poison of partisanship to enter local elections.

Finally, Irvine desperately needs to stiffen its conflict-of-interest requirements to guarantee beyond a reasonable doubt that elected and appointed city officials do not use their positions of public trust to feather their own financial nests.

This is an ambitious agenda. But, we have the time and, hopefully, the commitment to democratic and honest government to tackle it. All we need now is some leadership from the City Council to begin this exciting deliberative process.

Now that the gauntlet has been thrown down, we can only wait to see if someone on the City Council is willing to pick it up.

MARK P. PETRACCA, Ph.D., Irvine

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