13 REASONS NOT TO SUPPORT THE “ELECT OUR MAYOR” PROPOSAL
Such a radical change requires public debate
A charter amendment that would so profoundly change how Newport Beach is governed should be the subject of public debate. A committee should be appointed to weigh the pros and cons with public input. None of this has happened. Even the council hasn’t discussed it! Good ideas get shared out in the open, bad ones get promoted through one-man marketing campaigns.
It bypasses term limits
Council members are currently selected by their peers to act as mayor for a 1 year term, and the position rotates. Even an unprincipled mayor can’t get us into too much trouble in that time. 8 years is a different story. With this proposal, a person could serve on the council for 8 years and then as mayor for 8 more, for a total of 16 years. This is what Newport Beach voters were concerned about when we approved term limits in 1992: we don’t want entrenched politicians governing us.
It would give one person almost exclusive control of the agenda
The person who decides what’s on the agenda decides what items get discussed, what neighborhoods get attention, what development projects get considered. The new system would give the mayor close to absolute control over the agenda and thus over the city’s future.
It’s a power grab
The new system would concentrate power in the hands of the mayor rather than evenly distributing it between council members and their districts, as the current system does.
It would silence certain voices
If a hideous, traffic-snarling project is proposed near your home, it’s possible that you, your neighbors and your council representative would never be able to get it on the agenda no matter what you did. That’s because under the new system, 50% of the council would have to agree that an item needs to be brought before the council if the mayor declines to put it on the agenda.
The mayor decides almost everything
The proposal states that the mayor gets to “interpret the policies, programs and needs of the city.” In other words, the mayor gets to decide what a policy means and what programs the city needs (or doesn’t need.) That is a remarkable power that could be seriously abused by the wrong person in office.
It’s designed to benefit professional politicians
Our current system gives regular citizens the chance to give back to the city by serving on the council for 1 or 2 terms, in theory acting as mayor or mayor pro tem for at least 1 of those years. The new system would make running for council less appealing for civic minded citizens while attracting professional politicians who are after power and prestige.
It would open the door to corruption
Campaign contributions already exceeded $1 million in the last two council races, even though no individual member had anywhere near as much power and influence as the mayor would have under the new system. You can be sure that a corrupt candidate would be attracting millions of dollars from special interests, including from different cities and even states.
It would attract carpetbaggers
Carpetbaggers are those pesky people who move to a place to which they have no real connection and run for office solely for their personal benefit. Imagine how being the elected mayor of Newport Beach could attract a billionaire willing to drop a few million to buy the seat then dictate how Newport should be run… our worst nightmare!
No other city prevents the City Manager from adding items on the agenda
Newport Beach prides itself in having outstanding city managers, and they play an important role in creating the agenda, with input and guidance from the council. The new system would allow the mayor to micromanage and overrule the city manager at every turn. It would be like putting the chairman of the board in charge of a company’s day-to-day operations, sidelining the CEO. This is especially important since our City Manager will eventually leave and will will have to hire a new one. Why would anyone want to take a job with this type of restriction? This change will make it very difficult to recruit a competent City Manager in the future.
The race would be incredibly expensive
A candidate for mayor would need to raise a lot of money, much more than for a regular council seat. Ultra-wealthy donors and special interests from other cities and states could dump huge sums into our elections to get their candidate into the seat that holds all the power. This would leave the elected mayor with favors to return, especially if they are planning future campaigns.
Representation would be imbalanced
The new system would divide the city into 6 districts, vs. 7 currently. That means that each council member will have more constituents than today, increasing their workload, which could make them less responsive. On the other hand, those who live in the same district as the mayor will effectively have two representatives. Chances are very good that unpopular development projects will NOT wind up in those districts.
It would make our elections even less competitive
In 2020, only 5 candidates ran for three seats. One person ran unopposed. Our council races have gotten extremely expensive and grueling, discouraging many potentially outstanding representatives from running. Under the new system, requiring 50% of the council to agree to put something on the agenda, members who are not allies of the mayor would basically be figureheads, further reducing the appeal of the position. Newport is best served by a system that distributes power equally between council members and districts.