Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Huntington Beach Voters to Decide Fate of 2 Elected City Positions

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HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.—Voters will decide in November whether to give the city council authority to sidestep the elected city attorney by hiring outside legal counsel.

The city council voted for the ballot measure June 21, among a few others.

Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates told The Epoch Times this would give the city council “unbridled authority” over the city’s legal business, which “undermines the people’s choice in who the city’s attorney really is.”

“The city charter and vote of the people designate me as the only legal, the exclusive, legal counsel for the city, no one else,” Gates said.

Assemblywoman Janet Nguyen (R-Huntington Beach) commended Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates during a council meeting in Huntington Beach, Calif., on June 21, 2022. (Courtesy of the City of Huntington Beach)
This comes following weeks of disapproval from residents about the city council’s interest in changing the elected city attorney’s position to appointed, though the council ultimately decided against it.

Several residents in the public comment portion of the meeting claimed the council thought voters were not wise enough to elect the best officials.

But Councilman Dan Kalmick said, “I think our residents are not stupid.”

He said the city attorney as a department head should be appointed just as other roles are in the city, such as the Chief of Police.

“The city attorney is not the independent watchdog of the city council” because they can’t act without following council rules, Kalmick said.

Councilwoman Kim Carr said the issues with elected positions were becoming politicized, and Councilwoman Natalie Moser agreed.

“It is a technical position,” Moser told the council, and “we want to make sure we aren’t acting based on a couple people, but rather [choosing] from a pool of good candidates” they consider are in the public’s best interest.

In the end, the council compromised that they didn’t care whether the city attorney’s position was elected or appointed, just that the position was filled with the ideal professional individual. They also agreed term limits weren’t necessary.

“You’re free to advise and we’re free to accept or reject your advice,” Mayor Pro Tem Mike Posey said to City Attorney Gates at the meeting.

Several public commenters opposed the ballot measure, saying they didn’t want the council to consult other attorneys that voters didn’t elect.

In response, Mayor Barabara Delgleize said, “At the end of the day … asking for a second opinion doesn’t take … authority away from the city attorney.” Delgleize referenced how normal client-attorney relationships allow clients the ability to consult a second attorney.

According to the council, because they already hire outside attorneys, this ballot wouldn’t be much of a change, it would only clarify that the council is in control of all legal business in the city.

“We hire outside legal all the time,” Councilwoman Carr said, complimenting Gates for his service, but adding that it is impossible for the city to solve all legal issues in-house.

But Michael Gates said outside counsel is only hired “minimally.”

“If I need a specialist, I hire sparingly on a consultation basis only, just a few hours at a time in order to spare taxpayer expense … Otherwise we do all legal work in-house,” he said.

Signs show support for Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates in Huntington Beach, Calif., on June 7, 2022. (Julianne Foster/The Epoch Times)
Voters will also choose to either keep electing their city clerk and treasurer or if they should be appointed by their city councilors.

City councilors formed a special committee to revise the city’s charter, which proposed 18 new amendments on June 7.

Two weeks later, the city council voted 6 to 0—with Councilman Erik Peterson absent—to create four ballot measures:

Focus on language and technical changes in the charter, including changing the term “Mayor Pro Tempore” to “Vice Mayor,” inserting gender-neutral terms, and making it easier for the council to cancel a scheduled meeting if necessary.
Remove the requirement that city attorneys must attend an American Bar Association-accredited law school and require the city clerk and treasurer to meet the minimum qualifications at the time they’re filing for candidacy or appointment.
Change the city clerk and treasurer from elected to appointed positions.
Give the city council control over all litigation and legal business, who may consult with outside attorneys when there is a conflict of interest involving the elected city attorney.

The next steps are for city staff to prepare and return final written ballot measures for council consideration at the July 5 meeting.


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