After winning a majority vote to place a new ordinance on the ballot in June, Chula Vista City Councilman Rudy Ramirez was ready to implement the details.
However, a recent vote to rescind the action for the proposition’s language flipped the vote and left Ramirez standing alone.
The Chula Vista City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday at its regular council meeting after newly-elected council member Mary Salas proposed the changes.
Prop. C language directly affects City Attorney Glen Googins’ role as an elected city attorney by reducing the city attorney’s salary, implementing term limits and hiring a legislative counsel when conflicts of interest arise within the City Attorney’s Office.
Salas asked for council support to repeal the third portion of the law.
“…I found that what happened with the work product is that it was overly broad,” Salas said. “…Sometimes when we’re doing things in a rush, broad legislation results … therefore you have to have fix-it legislation to follow it.”
In February when the ordinance was passed for the June ballot, outside counsel Thomas Brown had the responsibility of writing the language, which ultimately was criticized for being rushed and without proper vetting and civic engagement.
“I think that we can do better … that we have plenty of time to work on something that really is true to the intent of the voters in the passing of Prop. C,” Salas said.
In addition, Salas said that during the discussion process of Prop. C there were important entities overlooked for input, including the Charter Review Commission, Board of Ethics and also the city manager.
Peter Watry, who supported the ordinance, was the only person to speak during public comment on the topic.
“This is the ultimate in our American democratic society,” Watry said. “Voter approval is trumped only by the constitution — not by legislators, not by city councils, not by Mary Salas.”
Ramirez called the changes “ill-advised,” adding that the ordinance was well thought out.
“I think it was our responsibility and duty to create that ordinance,” he said. “The thing passed and it’s law.”
Ramirez added that he doesn’t understand how Prop. C is overly broad.
“It’s ironic that after the first meeting of a new council we’re repealing an ordinance that we worked on for a long time,” Ramirez said. “If there’s something wrong with this ordinance, something specific, let’s talk about it.”
Ramirez reminded the council that the passage of Prop. C was “the will of the people” and is not a personal attack on Googins.
“But certainly there’s a chance that the politics involved could create problems,” Ramirez said.
Councilwoman Patricia Aguilar, who provided the swing vote in February, admitted the issue has been one she’s struggled with.
“When Prop. C was first proposed … I had a tough time with it,” Aguilar said. “…My concern was the power that the city attorney has to determine or to advise on who does or who doesn’t have a conflict of interest is a very, very powerful thing to have.”
Aguilar referred to Googins’ ability to control the outcome of a vote as an “awesome power.”
After council discussion, Aguilar supported Salas’s proposal.
“Every once in a while things come up and an exception is deserved,” she said, adding that a process should be put together to figure out how to revise the ordinance.
Councilwoman Pamela Bensoussan, who voted down Prop. C along with Mayor Cheryl Cox, said there was no time frame to adopt an ordinance.
“The measure was an enabling one that gave council the opportunity to adopt an ordinance as they see fit,” Bensoussan said. “I don’t think we should try to characterize this as negating the will of the people … we have a chance to correct a mistake and I think we should take it.”
Googins pointed out that the proposition mandated term limits and adjustments in salary but not the creation of legislative counsel.
Googins added that he has an elected duty and responsibility to engage in the matter.
“I appreciate the council taking a more analytical, deliberative look at this,” he said.