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Letters to the Editor

Still the shining city on the hill?

Former Mayor Mike Henn’s talk at the Speak Up Newport Dinner on February 11, 2011 stuck with me. Mayor Henn described Newport as “the Shining City on the Hill.”

Yes, we heard from Mike about the City’s then current and future priorities (including “generational priorities,” which phrase is way beyond my pay grade), but that “Shining City” phrase is what I remember 11 years later.

That simple description bespeaks emotion, inspiration, and aspiration. Mike’s vision sorta made me proud to call Newport “home.”

But as I think of the town which has been a part time or fulltime home going on 68 years, I wonder if the vision is about to change.

Our Council of seven has worked collaboratively for nearly 70 years. They (all seven) debate vigorously, they (all seven) decide troublesome issues, they (all seven) put disagreements behind, they (all seven) move on to the next challenge.

I wonder – for all its perceived pluses – whether the direct election of the mayor plan will affect the thoughtful collaborative judgment by seven (former) equals. I wonder whether the “strong mayor” will overshadow the “lesser” remaining councilmembers and nullify our pre-eminent City Manager. I wonder whether we will still be “the Shining City on the Hill” after June 7.

A last thought as we prepare to cast our absentee ballots: If the direct election of the mayor is so worthwhile on its merits as contended by a proponent, why have so many prominent past and present Newport Beach Councilmembers, Mayors, Citizens of the Year, journalists, influential leaders, commission members, committee members, and committed citizens come out against the measure? 

Maybe these thoughtful folks have looked at the devil in the details – not swayed by a superficial catchphrase.

Please vote “NO” on Measure B. 

Paul K. Watkins

Newport Beach

Vote Yes on B, a rebuttal to the naysayers

I have now seen multiple misleading arguments in opposition to Measure B – the Elect Our Mayor initiative in Newport Beach. Here are some of those arguments and why I believe they are misleading. In the end, the voters of Newport Beach get to decide this important issue. Get educated and be sure to vote on June 7, 2022.

Argument 1 – This Is a Power Grab

How is allowing the people of Newport Beach to directly elect their Mayor a “power grab?” A “power grab” by whom? The people? Giving the people the chance to choose their own Mayor is democracy. It is simpler and more accountable government than the present system, which gives the power to appoint the Mayor to the City Council.

Argument 2 – The Proposed Terms for the Mayor Are Too Long.

Long compared to what? Certainly not the current system, where councilmembers can serve for 8 years, sit out a bit, and run again – over and over. Under the proposed measure, a person elected Mayor may only serve a maximum of two terms of four years each (for a maximum of 8 years served as Mayor in a lifetime). These term limits are in line with the limits in most cities. In fact, many cities set the limits at three or four terms of four years. Some cities even have no limits on the number of terms but simply limit successive terms. The proposed terms are not too long and are not unusual.

Argument 3 – Will O’Neill Would Make An Outstanding Mayor But What If the Voters Pick A Bad Mayor?

Most opponents of Measure B openly praise Will O’Neill and believe that he would make an excellent Mayor if Measure B passes and he runs and he is elected by the voters. But, they say, what if the voters of Newport Beach select a bad Mayor? I trust the voters of Newport Beach and believe it is unlikely they will select a bad Mayor. But if they somehow did, it’s worth remembering two important things. First, the proposed elected Mayor would only be one vote of seven, without a veto, and other councilmembers can add items to the policy agenda. Second, if a bad Mayor ever did emerge, the situation could be addressed through a recall process. Or the bad Mayor will not be re-elected. Do not assume that the voters are ignorant or incompetent. Trust the voters. Trust the democratic process. Elect the Mayor.

Argument 4 – The System That Newport Currently Uses Has Been Around a Long Time and Seems to Work So Why Change It?

The naysayers focus so heavily on wanting all the policy power to remain with the unelected City Manager. The Council-Manager system of governance is not democratic and in fact was originally devised to undermine democracy in city governance. The fact that many cities run this way, or that Newport Beach has long been run this way, does not address whether it is the best way to run our city. The origin of the Council-Manager system is enlightening and, in many ways, disturbing. In the early 1900s, when immigrants began to settle in large numbers in cities around the United States, the existing power structure of the cities feared that the immigrant hordes would vote together as a block and vote in one of their own kind. The solution to this “problem” was to develop the Council-Manager system of city governance and prevent the majority of voters from voting in the Mayor they wanted. Instead, voters were limited to electing several councilmembers whose power was diffused and it was up to the council members to select a “professional” city manager. [See 2006 article by Richard C. Schragger in the Yale Law Journal (115 Yale L.J. 2542) entitled “Can Strong Mayors Empower Weak Cities? On the Power of Local Executives in a Federal System”.] The net result is that in the City of Newport Beach, and in all cities that utilize the Council-Manager model, the person with the most power to set, influence and implement policy is the City Manager. The City Manager, however, is unelected by the voters and not directly accountable to the voters. 

A vote of “YES” on Measure B is a vote for democracy, accountability and a better way to run our great city. Please vote YES ON B.

John O’Hara

Newport Beach


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