The Long Beach City Charter is akin to the city’s Constitution. It is the law of the land – at least Long Beach land, which encompasses 50 square miles and nearly half a million residents. The voters must approve any change to the Charter.
The city operates as a council-manager form of government, which means a nine-member, elected city council sets the policies. The city manager and his staff carry out those policies. Interestingly, it has always been perceived that city councilmembers are part time positions, but nowhere in the Charter do we find the words “part time.”
The City Charter is very specific about the powers vested in the city council: “Except as otherwise provided in this Charter, all powers of the City shall be vested in the City Council.”
The city council is responsible for hiring two individuals: the city manager and the city clerk. The positions of mayor, city attorney, city auditor and city prosecutor are filled by a vote of the people. The city manager is responsible for hiring the staff.
Again, the Charter is clear on that latter point: “Neither the City Council, nor any of its committees or members shall dictate or attempt to dictate, either directly or indirectly, the appointment of any person to office or employment by the City Manager, or in any manner interfere with or prevent the City Manager, from exercising judgment in the appointment of officers and employees in the administrative service. Except for the purpose of inquiry, the City Council, its members and employees of the Legislative Department shall deal with the administrative service solely through the City Manager, and neither the City Council, its members and employees of the Legislative Department shall give orders to any of the subordinates of the City Manager, either publicly or privately.”
In other words, councilmembers do not tell city staff what to do. It is the responsibility of the city attorney, if necessary, to remind councilmembers to leave city staff alone and to work through the city manager.
What about the mayor?
Since 1988, the people of Long Beach have elected the mayor. There has often been confusion as to the role of the mayor. Because Long Beach has a council-manager form of government, the mayor’s duties and power are limited. For example, the mayor does not have a vote, does not have the power to appoint city employees to positions, or – similar to councilmembers – direct the work of city staff. However, the mayor may express an opinion on issues before the city council and, in so doing, may use the office to influence outcomes.
The City Charter (Section 202) sets the mayor’s duties as follows:
“The Mayor shall be the chief legislative officer of the City and as such shall have the power to veto actions of the City Council pursuant to and in accordance with the provisions of Section 213 of this Charter. The performance of the duties of the office of Mayor shall be considered as the full-time employment of the person occupying that office. The Mayor shall preside at meetings of the City Council. The Mayor shall have no vote, but may participate fully in the deliberations and proceedings of the City Council. The Mayor shall be recognized as head of the City government for all ceremonial purposes and by the governor for purposes of military law, but shall have no administrative duties other than those provided for in Section 207. The Mayor shall represent the City at large and utilize the office of Mayor to provide community leadership and as a focal point for the articulation of city-wide perspectives on municipal issues.”
Once again, it’s the responsibility of the independently elected city attorney to remind the mayor if he/she is overstepping the limitation of the office as set by the Charter.
Overall, the city’s structure provides a system of checks and balances that has worked well. Problems usually occur only when the mayor or councilmembers exceed their authority.
– Publisher George Economides