In 2006, the last time the Long Beach Democrat Clubhouse took control of the City Council, they claimed there was a "fiscal crisis" and they raised taxes 25 percent as a result. Of course, residents of the city were furious. The city council called for a referendum to see if the city should change to , hoping they could deflect attention away from the unnecessary 25 percent tax increase. The matter was placed on the ballot in November of 2007. It failed miserably, as Long Beach residents rejected the idea and threw the City Council out of office, restoring the Coalition.
It's funny how history repeats itself, because here we are again only six years later and the new City Council majority is raising our taxes potentially 15 to 20 percent, borrowing money left and right, refusing to cut spending, and by no coincidence, just like last time, suddenly the mayor issue is being discussed again.
Don't be fooled; don't take the bait. I do not think jumping to a new form of government now will be the answer. It's not the type of government that is the problem, its the people we have elected to govern our city.
“American’s love the quick fix. Unfortunately life’s not that simple. No magic pill can take off 20 pounds immediately. One lottery ticket in 16 zillion wins. And switching to the strong mayor system of government will not solve all of our local government’s problems. In fact, it may make them worse.” These words were written by Professor Terrell Blodgett of the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs.
While I am open to exploring all options, we need to seriously consider all of the pros and cons of replacing the city manager with a mayor. We need to make our government more efficient, not more political, and a mayor may do just that. To call for a mayor as a knee-jerk reaction to the broken campaign promises of the current administration, the hiring of friends and family by the current administration, or the failure of the current administration to solve the city's fiscal condition may only serve to make current matters worse.
Having a mayor would not change the fact that the City Council will have to approve a municipal budget. The recent city budget crisis occurred for three reasons: 1) The city manager who prepared the budget had absolutely no municipal budgeting experience; 2) the City Council majority didn’t offer any budget amendments to significantly reduce the 25 percent tax increase; and 3) they refused to adopt any of our budget amendments which could have reduced the tax increase to 3.5 percent. A mayor would not have prevented this from occurring.
We need an open discussion that includes the benefits and pitfalls of switching from a city manager to a mayor. Some say we need an elected executive. But what are the risks of having all of Long Beach’s political power in one person’s hands? Some say a mayor would make Long Beach less political, but they fail to mention that a mayor would have to run on a political party line, raise campaign money, and work with powerful political influences ever present in Long Beach.
Thus, a mayor may make the city more, not less, political. While a city manager serves at the will of the City Council, a mayor serves a term of 2 to 4 years. What happens if the mayor is not serving the city well? A professional city manager should be trained in municipal/public administration, unlike a mayor whose only qualification for running a city is that he/she can win a city-wide popularity contest. Does this help or hurt the city?
According to the California City Management Foundation, “an annual average of 44 U.S. Cities adopts the city manager form of government, while only 2 per year abandon it.”
Long Beach’s problem may not be its form of government; it may be a lack of leadership coming from the present City Council majority, and/or the manner in which our current government is implemented.
Long Beach is at a crossroads, but there is no “quick fix.” Rather than occurring in a knee-jerk reaction to a preventable crisis, this process must be carefully thought out and openly and honesty developed. If changing our form of government is determined to be in our city’s best interest, then it must be implemented in a manner than rises above politics and people’s personal agendas.