City Watch Long Beach

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. Besides a mayor and City Council, voters elect a city auditor, city attorney and city prosecutor. Their terms of office are four years and they can be re-elected without limits.

Their salaries are not set by Charter but are determined by the elected official in the budget he/she prepares and sends to the City Council for approval. The City Council usually rubber stamps the elected officials’ budget that includes salaries for the elected official as well as those who work in their department.

City Auditor – Not all cities in California elect an auditor. Some elect an auditor/controller or an auditor/treasurer. In Long Beach, the city auditor must be licensed to practice in the State of California as a certified public accountant and have been so certified for at least five years immediately preceding the date of filing of a nominating petition for the office of city auditor.

The city auditor shall be the general auditor of the city and of every department, commission, and office thereof. The city auditor shall have the authority to conduct performance audits of city departments, boards, commissions, and offices. Performance audits are defined as independent assessments of programs, functions, operations, or management designed to enhance performance, cost savings, efficiency or service improvements.

The city auditor, as often as they shall deem it advisable, but in any case at least once in each fiscal year, and at such other times as they shall be directed by the City Council, shall carefully examine and audit the books, records, accounts, funds and securities of all departments, boards, commissions and offices of the city for the purpose of determining: (1) the accuracy and correctness of such books, records and accounts; that the city and commissions thereof are receiving all monies, of whatsoever nature due it or them and (2) that such monies are allocated to the funds entitled thereto.

Immediately upon the completion of such examination and audit, the city auditor shall make and file with the city clerk and City Council, a written report thereof. If, during the course of such examination and audit, they discover any irregularities, the city auditor shall immediately make and file a written report thereof to the city clerk and City Council. The city auditor shall verify the cash in the city treasury at least once a quarter and shall make a written report thereof to the City Council.

The current salary for the Long Beach City Auditor is $254,000 plus benefits. The department employs 18 people with an annual budget of $3 million.

City Attorney – Very few cities in California elect their city attorney. Most cities contract with law firms to provide legal services. A city attorney must be licensed to practice law in California for at least five years immediately preceding the first day upon which candidates for the office of the city attorney are permitted to file nominating petitions for such office with the city clerk.

The city attorney’s office handles all of the civil legal affairs of the City of Long Beach. The duties of the city attorney are set forth in the city’s Charter, which provides that they shall be the sole and exclusive legal advisor of the city, City Council, and all city commissions, committees, officers and employees. As such, the city attorney is charged with municipal responsibilities as complex as any in the state. The city attorney’s office represents the city on affirmative and defensive civil litigation, legislative and legal issues, and administrative code enforcement proceedings.

The current salary for the Long Beach City Attorney is $341,00 plus benefits. The department employs 52 people with an annual budget of $10.9 million.

City Prosecutor – Most cities do not elect a city prosecutor. They contract with law firms to handle criminal prosecution of misdemeanors. Felonies are prosecuted by the county district attorney. A candidate for city prosecutor must be qualified to practice in all the courts of the State of California and must have been so qualified at least five years immediately preceding the first day upon which candidates for the office of city prosecutor are permitted to file nominating petitions for such office with the city clerk.

The city prosecutor is responsible for the prosecution of adult misdemeanor and infraction violations of state and local law, typically about 14,000 cases each year. The city prosecutor’s office also handles appeals and writs of habeas corpus and drafts and renders legal opinions regarding penal ordinances.

The current salary for the Long Beach City Prosecutor is $266,000 plus benefits. The department employs 38 people with an annual budget of $5.8 million.

Fun Fact Firsts:

  • Dawn McIntosh was the first woman elected as city attorney in 2022.
  • Myrtelle L. Gunsul was the first woman elected as city auditor in 1919 and retired in 1951.

 

Next column: Why Does Long Beach Have Both a Mayor and City Manager?

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