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Mailbag: Don't limit citizen involvement at City Hall

April 07, 2012

Involved citizens are the key to local government. In the past, I have always lauded the city of Newport Beach for its citizens' involvement.

Now, not so much.

Mayor Nancy Gardner's latest newsletter contains an interesting reflection on "managing the city as a business." She notes that a gentleman spends a large amount of time at City Hall "reviewing various things." She asked City Manager Dave Kiff how much staff time it takes to assist the gentleman in his review; his estimate was about 10 hours per week.

She noted that it was good to have involved citizens, but "it seems like a lavish gift of public services to one individual." She acknowledged, though, that having such citizens may avoid problems, such as occurred in the city of Bell.

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Although elected officials, such as Gardner, and city staff, such as Kiff, may regard citizen involvement as an annoyance, it is not. It is precisely what good local government is all about. The city lost track of this last year when there was an attempt "to manage the city as a business."

Businesses are all about profits, not services. The city is all about services, including providing information to interested citizens, not profits. Neither staff nor the council can manage the city like a business, because it isn't a business. Local government is about services, local regulations, addressing local problems and, yes, citizen involvement.

Indeed, citizen involvement is the key to local governments, and it is especially important to the city of Newport Beach. With the multiple conflict problems without the appropriate recusals, the reemergence of the good ol' boys network, citizens' committees and advisory panels run by high-priced consultants, not the local citizens who used to run such committees, and, of course, their desire to "get the [City Council] meeting over early," the council and the city have lost their way.

As I said when I resigned from the Planning Commission, good local government is all about affording local citizens the ability to provide invaluable input into all aspects of our local government (including the siting of an extended hours bar near homes). Involved citizens will make sure that things get back on track.

Robert C. Hawkins

Newport Beach

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Stop 19th St. bridge, Banning Ranch

Re. "Wu misstated action on bridge," Mailbag, April 5:

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