City government needs a change

July 16, 2004

Manfred E. Wolff

Highly disturbing ethical lapses were evident in the July 6 council

meeting discussion regarding the Orange County approval of the

relocation of the Corporate Yard to ACT V.

The recommendation by the city manager to send his subordinates,

paid by the city, to participate in the proceedings of the Coastal

Commission on whether to uphold the move to ACT V should clearly have


been rejected unanimously -- instead, the council took no action at

all. Anyone knows that when your boss asks you to "participate" at

organizational expense in a discussion involving something he

strongly favors, your support is being demanded.

Councilman Steve Dicterow rightly stated that this procedure gave

the appearance of coercion. But council members who are allied with

the city manager in the matter were undismayed. Councilwoman

Elizabeth Pearson brushed off the problem of payment of city funds to

the staff for their time for this attendance by offering funds from

private donors, thereby effectively transforming city staff members

into paid lobbyists. Mayor Cheryl Kinsman went even further, saying

that as she supported the move to ACT V, she saw no problem in the

payment from city funds.

In a further recommendation, the city manager asked for approval

to hire a "facilitator" to represent the city before the commission

without any mention of the cost of the hire. Although he was

challenged by council members as to the identity of the proposed

employee and as to the amount of payment, he was unwilling to respond

to either question.

Some of us may remember discussions in our high school civics

classes, in which the supposed advantages of the city manager system

were extolled over the traditional "strong mayor" system of city

government. The evils of "political machines," political corruption,

cronyism, bribery, etc., were supposed to be vitiated by the actions

of professionally trained city managers who could easily be replaced,

if necessary, by the actions of the voters.

But Laguna Beach has come to be dominated by 20 years of political

control by a single individual who seemingly can expertly sway the

actions of some (fortunately not all) unsophisticated council

members. Residents of Laguna can address these problems and regain

control of their community in three ways. The first is to vote for

strong council members who are pledged to ethical governance and not

to the proposition that the end justifies the means. The second is to

insist issues that affect a broad segment of Laguna residents (like

the Village Entrance, etc.) be put on the ballot in the form of a

referendum, as is done for many state issues. And the third is to

demand a term limit of eight years (like the U.S. president) for

future city managers.

* MANFRED E. WOLFF is a Laguna Beach resident.

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