CityWatch Long Beach

Gerrie Schipske

CityWatch Long Beach is 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 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.

Why does the city have both a mayor and a city manager?

Quite simply, the mayor is elected and is accountable to the voters. He/she is a politician, not a professional public administrator. A city manager is a professional public administrator who is the chief executive of the city and manages city departments and the budget. He/she can hire and fire department heads and is accountable to the City Council that hired him/her.

Historically, in Long Beach and throughout the country, city governments were run by elected officials. Their supporters were awarded jobs – which is called patronage – and ran city departments, resulting in cities being run for special interests and not the residents.

Across the country, there was a movement in the late 1880s to professionalize government at the federal level. According to the National Archives,” The Pendleton Act provided that federal government jobs be awarded on the basis of merit and that government employees be selected through competitive exams. The act also made it unlawful to fire or demote for political reasons employees who were covered by the law.” This law started the use of the “Civil Service System.”

The same reform was brought to the city government level and in 1912, the city of Sumter, South Carolina became the first city to adopt the city manager-council form of government. Long Beach had a “commissioner form of government” until 1921 when voters adopted the city manager-council form of government. It already utilized a “Civil Service Commission.”

City managers are considered professionals because they often have spent years before they become city managers, working in a variety of cities and departments. The International City Management Association provides training and seminars for city managers.

The use of a city manager-city council form of government indicates a “weak mayor” form of government where a mayor cannot vote except to break tie votes of the council. A weak mayor is usually not directly elected by voters but by the other members of City Council. Interestingly, when voters approved the direct election of mayor in Long Beach, they did not change the form of government which would have given the mayor the executive authority over city departments. This would require a change in the City Charter.

For all intents, the mayor of Long Beach is a ceremonial position with little power other than using the position as a “bully pulpit” for policy changes.

In those cities with a strong mayor form of government, while the mayor is considered the chief executive over the departments, a professional “chief administrative officer” is hired to take care of day-to-day operations and to implement the mayor and City Council policies. So, there are little cost savings in this system.

Fun Facts:

In 1921, Long Beach citizens who proclaimed they were “disgusted” with the proposals of the elected officials, circulated a petition to change the charter and appoint a city manager. Long Beach amended its charter on a vote of 3,237 to 2,508 and adopted the city council-manager structure.

The council hired Charles E. Hewes as city manager. More than 50 had applied for the new position which paid $7,500. Hewes had served as manager in two other cities: Alhambra and Alameda. Hewes had testified before the Long Beach City Council during debates on whether or not Long Beach should adopt the council-manager form of government. He was considered one of the most qualified and respected city managers in the state when he was hired in Long Beach.

Upon appointment as city manager, he set about to cut city jobs and “adjust” wages. Hewes also brought significant changes to Long Beach especially with the city’s Public Health Department. He expanded the department to include moving the public health officer from his home to a city office and adding a public nurse, sanitary and milk inspectors, health department clerk, statistician and veterinarian. Hewes also announced the “establishment of an emergency hospital, purchase of a municipal ambulance and a rigid system of food and sanitation inspection.” He proclaimed that the newly found oil would result in $300,000 in revenue, which would be used for civic improvements.

His professionalism was met with resistance in a city that was controlled by those who benefited from politicians. Hewes was quoted in a 1922 newspaper that in his new job he had to battle the Southern Pacific Railroad “which insists running its freight train right down the main thoroughfare” and the many who had been political leaders in other communities before they moved to Long Beach and “immediately assume the reins of government in our community and the cause of no end of trouble.”

Hewes was described as “a fine big fellow but no diplomat.” His largest opposition came from when he tried to take on the Police Department. In November 1922, he fired  Police Chief Ben McLendon, after he arrested three men involved in disrupting a political rally. Two of the three arrested were former Long Beach police chiefs and the third was a known leader of the Ku Klux Klan. McLendon alleged that the two former chiefs, Butterfield, and Cole, were also members of the KKK.

Within two weeks of the firing, a recall effort was launched. Advertisements appeared in the daily newspaper. As the professional “city manager” bulletin described: “In numerous other cases, the manager was made the brunt of attack for actions for which the council was responsible and for which, to the well-informed, fair-minded citizen the council need make no excuses.”

Hewes was recalled by a vote of 5,837 to 4,000. McLendon applied for Hewes’ job. Former Mayor Charles Windham was appointed city manager. Hewes became an executive with the Southern Electric power company.

Later voters removed the provision in the City Charter that allowed recall of the city manager.


Next column: What do the city departments do?


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