The LookOut Letters to the Editor
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Measure HH is "Bad Government"

By Mayor Michael Feinstein

Measure HH is a deeply flawed, ''bad government' ballot measure. It contains numerous negative features, including significantly reducing voter choice (see http://www.goodgovernment4santamonica.com).

As outgoing Mayor, I wish to focus on another, perhaps less-publicized, but still major problem with Measure HH -- the overconcentration of power promised to the new proposed eighth member of the City Council -- the "boss" Mayor.

Under Santa Monica's current and long-standing form of government, the Mayor's role is intentionally ceremonial -- that of chairing meetings, signing official correspondence, and doing public speaking and ribbon cuttings. The Mayor's role is designed specifically to not have dominant power in relation to the City Council, in order to promote a balance of power among all decision-makers.

Measure HH would undermine this balance by creating a position that exists nowhere else in California. Under Measure HH, a single individual can veto the City Council, participate in Council discussions and threaten the veto, and control what goes onto the City Council agenda and when.

No other California city has a Mayor with all of these powers combined. Not only would this radically shift power in City Hall into the hands of one person. But with this kind of power at stake, the mayoral race would also draw enormous special interest funds, unnecessarily corrupting the scale and cost of local elections.

Less than 10 percent of California cities have a Mayor with veto power. There is a reason for this -- most of those cities are much larger in size and population than Santa Monica -- like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland and San Jose.

City Council members in these cities are not expected to know and be accountable to the whole city, because they come from widely-separated individual districts, necessitated by the large size and population of these cities. Hence, the argument in these special cases where geography and population create problems that smaller cities don't have is that a veto-wielding Mayor will force Council members to work beyond the ward-style-based provincialism that districts create

But even in these few cities, the Mayor does not also get to 'double-dip' in the power structure by participating directly in Council deliberations -- including with the threat of a veto -- and then be able to also veto that decision afterwards. This even includes the City's entire budget process.

As if this is not enough, Measure HH concentrates power even further. The new Mayor would also have unilateral control of the agenda process, setting up unnecessary conflict between mayoral politics and city management.

Currently the City Manager is responsible for agenda planning -- to both depoliticize the process and to ensure sound coordination of city staff and department work. The Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem consult on the agenda preparation, but the final responsibility lies with the City Manager.

Measure HH's backers -- when confronted that they've created a 'gatekeeper' monster with this process -- deny they've ceded so much power to one individual. But the ballot language they wrote (in secret) says to the contrary.

Either Measure HH's backers did an extremely poor job drafting their ballot measure, or perhaps they're not very upfront about what their true intentions are. (Do you ever wonder why they chose to write the ballot measure in private, without any public process?)

The control of the City's agenda process also raises major issues of fairness for our community. The financial implications of city policy-making -- for a variety of stakeholders -- can be significant, depending upon what development rights are granted and to whom. If Measure HH were implemented, special interest money would expect agenda planning favors in return from the person they put in office.

Even simply determining when potential policies are heard can by itself determine large sums of money, by speeding up or delaying a decision. Then there are the political advantages that come with scheduling items at different times. Determining what gets heard right before an election -- and what gets heard afterwards -- is an extremely powerful tool.

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Measure HH's campaign consultants have run a clever campaign. They've utilized slick slogans gleaned from extensive push-polling (done by out-of-state vendors) and communicated their message through expensive, city-wide direct mailers and highly paid (mostly non-resident) signature gatherers.

Cynically playing upon "anti-government" sentiments, they've argued the "the people" should elect the Mayor. But they are not simultaneously upfront about the overconcentration of power the new Mayor would have. Such intentionally misrepresentative, Madison Avenue techniques are abhorrent in any community attempting to have a responsible discussion about democracy.

Presently in Santa Monica, the Mayor's primary responsibility is to chair the meetings. It makes sense for the City Council to choose the person it trusts to do that facilitation. Over 90 percent of California cities agree with this process, using a similar system to Santa Monica to choose their City Council meeting chairs.

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In Santa Monica's form of government, we seek the checks and balances that come from the deliberations of equally-powered decision-makers. Measure HH would undermine this, by concentrating power in the hands of one individual.

In Santa Monica, we also benefit from our decision-makers being elected to represent the entire city as a whole. Measure HH would also undermine this, reducing voter choice, neighborhood voice and governmental accountability in the process.

Measure HH is bad government. Measure HH would be bad for Santa Monica. Vote No on HH.


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