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Venice Council election date change plans get pushback

Written by on Thursday, April 25, 2024

The two newcomers to the council oppose the plan to move local poll to general elections.


By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Apr. 24, 2024

Host: The last Venice City Council elections swept two outsiders into office. Now, the sitting commissioners want to change the election date to coincide with general elections. That prompted heated debate at a meeting yesterday, as Ramon Lopez reports.

Ramon Lopez: Proponents called it a cost-saving measure. Opponents said it was an attempt to make Venice City Council elections more partisan. And tempers flared when the council members discussed the matter.

The issue in question at Tuesday’s city hall meeting: Conversion of the council’s elected office term from three to four years, as well as a two-term limit instead of the current three-term limit for Venice Council membership.

Supporters said having three-year terms put some council seats up for election every odd-numbered year, making those races the only ones in the county. City staffers said getting rid of odd-year elections for city council races would save $50,000.

Several residents weighed in on the public debate: Curt Whittaker and Ruth Cordner.

Curt Whittaker: Your constituents didn’t ask for this. The voters of this city that you represent didn’t ask for this. They don’t have a problem. So whose problem is it?

Ruth Cordner: Odd-year elections make for a more informed public voting. Even though it’s a low turnout, it’s still a much more informed constituent base. These elections represent and they’re inclusive of all the residents and all the issues that are pertinent to Venice. Voters can also focus more on local issues, without the distraction of national issues.

RL: Vice Mayor Jim Boldt and Council member Ron Smith had opposing views.

Jim Boldt: When you run for one of these seats, it’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of money involved. There’s a lot of work involved. You know, we put a lot of our own money into this — order, devise signs and put handouts out, and so on and so forth. I think it’s still in the best interest to go to a four-year cycle. I think it just, you know, helps everybody involved.

Ron Smith: I think this is a bad idea, for all the reasons that have been expressed here today by the public. First, that we lose the annual accountability of accounts, especially that we lose [inaudible] on city races in the odd years, when we’re the only game in town and when city issues are on the front page. All that would be lost. But even more important, this is a an effort to make our races more partisan.

RL: Some colleagues took offense at Smith’s remarks. Council Member Helen Moore was fuming.

Helen Moore: I am angered by Mr. Smith’s use of word of ‘this corrupt proceeding’. There is no corrupt proceeding, and I absolutely resent to the maximum degree that there’s some sort of corrupt, nefarious, outsider, influential anything in this, because it is not true. The partisanship question is not something that we as a city council can address. Each of us are free citizens to belong to whatever party, or no party, or not belong at all. This whole rant that you’re on, Mr. Smith, is offensive. And you owe us an apology.

RL: When the verbal dust settled, the Venice City Council members voted five to two to have a referendum in November, as required by law.

Venice citizens will vote on whether to 1) convert Venice City Council terms from three to four years and 2) have a two-term limit instead of the current three-term limit for council members.

As expected, Smith and fellow Council Member Joan Farrell voted against the referendum.

Mayor Nick Pachota said he looked forward to seeing what the voters say in November.

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Meanwhile, Venice council members voted against city staff’s suggested changes to audience participation at council meetings. It threatened to reduce public comment opportunities. Currently, the general public is allowed up to an hour to speak at the beginning and end of regular council meetings. City residents and city business owners get five minutes to speak. Everyone else gets two. Public comment is also permitted on a specific issue when there’s council action on it.

City staffers said the move wasn’t meant to stifle public input, but to clear up some code provisions and inconsistencies. And state law only requires a “reasonable opportunity to be heard”.

Mayor Pachota said the changes would speed up council meetings, but he got little support from the others. Smith’s motion to reject the proposed changes passed 5 to 2, with only Pachota and council member Rachel Frank voting against it.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.

 

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