October 31, 2008

Commentary:

Prop. Q is about direct democracy for the people

All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their protection, security, and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require.

Article 2 of the California Constitution


By Norma Cazares

In 1911, Governor Hiram Johnson and the new Progressive majority in the California legislature, tired of corrupt politics and the influence of special interests, made unprecedented governmental changes including the introduction of initiative, referendum, and recall at the state and local levels.

They understood that the people have the right to protect themselves when a government fails to govern in a manner that is in the best interest of its citizens.

Proposition Q on the November ballot, the citizen-driven initiative in Chula Vista to change the city charter from an appointed City Attorney to one that is elected by the people, is the next step for direct democracy in Chula Vista.

Currently, the City Attorney represents the interests of those making the appointment . . . the Mayor and City Council, not the interests of the taxpayers who pay their salary. The City Attorney’s mission, as described on the city’s website, is to provide legal advice and support to the Mayor and City Council and other appointed policy makers. Public interest is not a top priority and is served only indirectly by providing legal support to the policymakers.

Chula Vista needs an attorney who will represent and be responsible to the people.

Proposition Q is written to give the elected City Attorney the latitude to advise city officials on the law in an independent and ethical fashion.  A recent Union Tribune editorial erroneously states that a city council member at odds with the city attorney would have no recourse.  In fact, Proposition Q  specifically and expressly gives city officials whose interests are in conflict with another office of the city (including the city attorney), the right to hire separate counsel at city expense—but only if approved by the city council, thereby ensuring proper checks and balances. 

Opponents say the initiative is defective because it doesn’t include a residency requirement and term limits. (They don’t mention residency and a term limits are not required for an appointed city attorney.) But the most important item they left out is that the voters have a choice and can vote for a Chula Vista resident, or the voters can choose an outside challenger if they wish.

What would drive law-abiding citizens to go through the arduous process of moving this initiative forward? Love for our community, surely, but sadly also a loss of confidence in our government.

An elected city attorney would help stop the unethical behavior, corruption and back-room deals. For example:

In May 2005, the appointed city attorney helped form the Chula Vista Redevelopment Commission. Originally, the Mayor and City Council were members and most collected monthly stipends even though no meetings were held. The stipends were later reimbursed.

In July 2008, the appointed city attorney failed to prevent the preparation of a deceptive ballot measure to change the tax on utilities. Drafted by the Mayor to sound like a tax decrease, the measure would have redefined utilities to include new taxes.

With an independently elected city attorney responsible to the people of Chula Vista, such practices would cease. Proposition Q would restore much-needed public confidence in local government.

Norma Cazares is past president of the South Bay Forum and a sponsor of Prop. Q

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