Craig Miller, Andrew Nasatir and Ana Valle-Lopez have announced plans to float a ballot initiative. The “City Attorney Accountability Act” asks Santa Monica voters to collect signatures to qualify the measure and vote to change the City Charter to make the City Attorney an elected position as opposed to an appointed one.
The City Attorney would be elected by popular vote for four-year terms, with the first election being within 120 days of the ballot measure’s approval. Salary would be determined by City Council. Council would be able to appoint an interim replacement if the office is vacated, then a new City Attorney would be elected in the next general election.
The duties of the City Attorney are to handle litigation of all kinds for and against the city; draft and interpret ordinances statutes and regulations pertaining to the city; advise council and staff on a variety of legal matters; and play a major roll in negotiating deals and contracts, especially development agreements.
The ballot measure proposes that the City Attorney should be democratically elected by the voters of Santa Monica and held directly accountable to city residents instead of City Council.
Here, the basic relationship between the City Attorney’s office and the City Council is one of a mutual admiration society that often works against the public interest.
An elected City Attorney would eliminate the precarious relationship between his or her direct employer (the council) and lots of internal politics. Because the City Attorney knows where all the skeletons are buried, council members may be reluctant to fire the individual in the case of wrongdoing or incompetency. That’s why electing major department heads is good policy.
Over the last few years, the current City Attorney Marsha J. Moutrie has been criticized on a number of fronts.
Moutrie approved Elizabeth Riel’s firing last spring. Riel was terminated by then City Manager Rod Gould within hours of being hired as the city communications chief after complaints were made about her past political alliances by Councilwoman Pam O’Connor. Riel sued and the settlement cost the city a million bucks.
Moutrie didn’t inform council that there were options to recover the million-dollar settlement paid out to Riel. In addition, it appears that Moutrie sat on a referral to the L.A. County Public District Attorney’s Integrity Division for over one year letting the statute of limitations expire and making it impossible to investigate or prosecute O’Connor for any possible wrongdoing.
Fifteen units of deed-restricted (low and middle income apartments) required in a development agreement (DA) with the Dorchester House condominiums on 4th Street were never implemented. Units were bought and sold at market rate and occupied by owners — a blatant violation of the D.A. Moutrie illegally modified the building’s DA in the settlement of a claim — something the council only has the authority to do. Kiss 15 low-income units goodbye.
Moutrie signed a lease amendment with an arts entrepreneur at the Santa Monica Airport without needed council approval. It cost the city $800,000 in rent. Her office was also a part of the City Hall bureaucracy that (illegally) ignored state-mandated procedures pertaining to processing parking ticket appeals.
I like the idea of an elected City Attorney because the existing cozy relationships between city policymakers, as well as outside business-related special interests, need changing.
The public may pay more attention to City Attorney office activities and become more involved with how it works. Decisions will be better made when the City Attorney is answerable directly to the people.
Civic Center plans in chaos
Final recommendations for the future of the Civic Center have been released by the Civic Working Group. The nearly 1,200 pages of reports and information represent a momentous amount of work by all those involved. Their effort will be reviewed by City Council at their Feb. 9 meeting.
The overall conclusion by the CWG is that the landmark Civic Auditorium and immediate surrounding area would be best served by some kind of arts or entertainment complex. This would involve securing a private operator to renovate the aging structure and operate art and entertainment related activity.
Renovations alone could cost around $100 million and even under the best of circumstances, multi-million dollar yearly losses are still projected for the facility.
Additional enhancements could include adjoining music and entertainment venues and art galleries. The addition of a roster of appropriate amenities would add a weekend and evening nightlife element to the area that doesn’t exist at present.
Inclusion of cafés and social amenities would enhance the desirability of the Auditorium as a venue as well as an arts and cultural center for the public.
There are different opportunities opposed to this philosophy. One is for a soccer field or combination soccer facility/ice rink on the 1,000 car surface parking lot adjacent to the Civic.
Another says that the losses associated with a money-losing arts complex could be mitigated by leasing land near the Auditorium for a hotel, apartment complex or other non-related revenue generating options. However like the sports uses and a badly misplaced Early Childhood Education Center, this all takes space away from the arts and entertainment “heart” conceived for our Civic Center.
It’s time to bite the bullet. Demolish the hopelessly out-of-date Civic Auditorium and start with a fresh, clean slate.
I’m sure we could build one heck of an arts — or sports — complex. And, we’d have a spanking new venue that would be a crowd-pleaser, have universal appeal and make money!
Bill Bauer can be reached at email@example.com.