ABCs of Local Government

Gerrie Schipske

Thanks to Jay Beeler, we are launching CityWatch Long Beach – a column on the inner workings of local government. We hope this will inform, inspire and engage readers. I welcome questions and suggestions for topics.

After spending eight years on City Council, four years on LBCC Board of Trustees, 11 years teaching public policy, law and political science at CSULB and many, many years in political campaigns, I want to share how to keep our elected officials accountable.

So, let’s begin with the ABCs of Local Government.

Elected Officials – Long Beach is a chartered city and its voters determine what elected officials will govern the city, their terms of office and their salaries.

The City Council – which in the past has been called trustees and commissioners, is elected to represent nine council districts. The districts are evenly composed of residents and are boundaries of the districts are adjusted every 10 years following the U.S. Census. City Councilpersons are elected every four years and can serve a maximum of three terms or 12 years in office.

Unlike non-chartered or general cities, Long Beach holds a primary election in June. If no candidate receives 50% plus one vote in the primary, the top two candidates advance to a November general election. Many general cities hold a winner take all election in November. Odd-numbered districts are filled at one general municipal election and even-numbered districts at the next such election.

For most of its history, Long Beach conducted primary elections in April and general elections in June. This was changed to align Long Beach elections with state and federal elections.

The Charter provides “all powers of the city shall be vested in the City Council.” These powers include hiring and firing a city manager; taking formal acts in the form of ordinances and resolutions; and voting one of its members as vice-mayor every two years. Councilpersons serve on council committees and sometimes as a representative to county and state organizations.

The City Council cannot direct city employees nor hire or fire department heads; only the city manager can.

The City Charter sets the salary for city councilpersons at 25% of the annual salary of the mayor. In addition to the salary, councilpersons receive health care benefits, retirement, contribution to Social Security, cell phones and a vehicle allowance. Councilpersons who represent the city on county and state committees also receive a stipend for service. Each councilperson is given an office budget out of which staff, supplies and equipment are paid.

The City Charter does not indicate whether the position of city councilperson is a full or part-time position.

Mayor – Up until 1988, the position of mayor was held by a councilperson selected by the other members of the City Council for a two-year term. When voters changed the City Charter, the mayor was elected by the voters in a primary and general election in even years. The mayor, like the City Council, is elected to a four-year term and can serve a total of 12 years in office. The current salary of the mayor is $163,073 with a benefits package of $31,429. The mayor has an office budget for staff, supplies and equipment. 

The mayor is the chief legislative officer of the city and has the power to veto actions of the City Council. The duties of the mayor are considered as the full-time employment of the person occupying that office.

The mayor presides over meetings of the City Council. The mayor has no vote but may participate fully in the deliberations and proceedings of the City Council. The mayor is 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. The mayor represents the city at large and utilizes the office of mayor to provide community leadership and as a focal point for articulating citywide perspectives on municipal issues.

The mayor makes appointments to city committees, commissions and boards with the approval of the City Council. On or before the 15th day of January of each year, the mayor makes a statement concerning the condition of the city. The mayor also reviews the budget prepared by the city manager and can make recommendations that are forwarded to the City Council.

First Fun Facts

  • Ruth Bach was the first woman elected to the Long Beach City Council in 1954.
  • Eunice Sato was the first woman elected by the City Council to serve as mayor in 1980.
  • Ernie Kell was the first to be elected citywide as mayor in 1988.
  • Beverly O’Neill was the first woman to be elected citywide as mayor in 1994 and the only mayor to serve three terms.
  • Robert Garcia was the first gay candidate to be elected citywide as mayor in 2014.
  • Rex Richardson was the first African American candidate to be elected citywide as mayor in 2022.

Next column: The City Auditor, City Attorney, City Prosecutor.


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