Measure B, the so called “Government Accountability and Ethics Act”, is a defective incumbent protection scheme written at the direction of City Manager Alexander Nguyen, and placed on the March 2020 primary ballot by the Oxnard City Council.
It is designed to extend city council terms, handcuff the council’s political challengers and kneecap several citizen-sponsored initiatives qualified for the November 2020 ballot.
To lure you into voting for it, Measure B includes false promises of reform on topics that the City’s taxpayer-funded polling said the voters would like to hear. And the City Manager is also using your tax money for a marketing campaign that includes glossy mail pieces.
Perhaps you have already received one in the mail.
Let’s debunk the City Manager’s claims one subject at a time.
FAKE TERM LIMITS
The City Manager claims that Measure B will “establish term limits for the Mayor and members of the City Council.”
Instead, Measure B would LOOSEN the already existing term limits. Here’s why.
Oxnard residents spent many months last year signing petitions to qualify a term limits initiative for the ballot. The City Council opposes it, so they voted to place Measure B as a competing measure on the ballot.
But instead of placing the citizen-sponsored initiative on the ballot, the City Council voted in the middle of the night on January 21 to adopt the citizens’ initiative into law ... knowing that many voters will unwittingly vote on March 3 to replace that language with the wording in Measure B.
So, as of January 21, we have term limits for the mayor and council members – limiting them to TWO consecutive terms (8 years) but eligible to run again after a two-year break.
If you vote for Measure B, you’ll be increasing the limit to THREE consecutive terms.
However, the city planted a LOOPHOLE in Measure B that allows an incumbent to EVADE TERM LIMITS by switching back and forth between mayor and council positions.
They’re term limits without actual term limits.
The REST of Measure B’s offerings are there only to DECEIVE you into voting for LOOSER term limits!
CONGRATULATIONS! YOU’RE A LOBBYIST!
City Manager Alexander Nguyen claims that Measure B will “prohibit councilmembers and commissioners from accepting gifts from lobbyists and contractors.”
Not exactly! Measure B prohibits them from accepting ANY gift (no minimum dollar value) from:
“any person who during the prior 12 months knowingly attempted to influence an elected City official or member of the Planning Commission in any legislative or administrative action.”
You do not have to be a PAID lobbyist to be ensnared by this language.
Nearly every resident speaking at a council meeting is attempting to influence the outcome. All those speakers are “lobbyists” according to Measure B.
If you ever call a city representative to complain about tree trimming, street repairs, trash, or any other city service … you are now a lobbyist!
Once YOU are painted as a lobbyist, it becomes a crime for an elected official to accept ANY gift of any size from you – not a bottle of water, not a cough drop, not a pencil, not a cookie.
You suddenly become a participant in a criminal act.
And because Measure B ensnares thousands of ordinary citizens, it will inevitably be selectively enforced ... against the City’s political opponents.
Incidentally, Measure B’s prohibitions on gifts do NOT apply to the city manager and staff ... even though they make almost all of the spending decisions.
A properly written ordinance that applied to PAID lobbyists and that also covered gifts to city staff would be a good idea ... but if the voters adopt Measure B there would be no way for the council to adopt such a measure. Measure B can only be amended by a new ballot initiative at a future election.
FAKE CAMPAIGN REPORTING REQUIREMENTS
The City Manager claims that Measure B will “eliminate the influence of outside special interests by strengthening campaign finance reforms.”
There are NO NEW CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORTING REQUIREMENTS in Measure B.
Measure B merely requires compliance with EXISTING state law, Government Code 81000, et. seq., that ALREADY requires campaign finance reporting to both the city clerk and to the state.
The City Manager further claims that Measure B will eliminate influence by “limiting political contributions to Mayoral and City Council candidates,” but he’s not telling you the whole story.
Measure B’s limitation on campaign contributions is so open-ended that it even prohibits a candidate from contributing more than $500 to his own campaign.
This type of limitation has already been ruled unconstitutional (in Buckley v. Valeo) ... and powerful incumbents routinely circumvent these limits through supposedly “independent” expenditures paid by moneyed interests seeking favors.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in Randall vs. Sorrell that “contribution limits that are too low can … harm the electoral process by preventing challengers from mounting effective campaigns against incumbent officeholders, thereby reducing democratic accountability.”
It was on that basis that the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in November 2019 in Thompson v. Hebdon that set aside a Ninth Circuit ruling that upheld $500 contribution limits in Alaska.
Measure B also limits contributions to candidate-controlled ballot measure committees. We believe the City Manager included that to CRIPPLE our ability to raise money for five initiatives that residents qualified for the November ballot ... and that he states he opposes.
However, the U. S. Supreme Court has ruled (in Citizens Against Rent Control v. City of Berkeley) that it is unconstitutional to place contribution limits on ballot measure committees.
Measure B is already facing a constitutional challenge in court that could potentially cost the taxpayers a fortune in legal fees if the measure is adopted by voters.
One week before the Oxnard City Council voted to place Measure B on the ballot, the Governor signed AB571 into law, so starting next year every local office is subject to contribution limits whether or not Measure B passes. The state law does not suffer from the same unconstitutional provisions that will be challenged if Measure B passes.
The City Manager claims that Measure B will “expand transparency by posting the City’s monthly financial reporting and City contracts on the City website.”
Oxnard is ALREADY required by state law to produce monthly financial statements -- with or without Measure B.
For many years Oxnard has refused to produce monthly financial statements, and they are presently being sued for failure to comply.
If Measure B is adopted, it will give the public absolutely nothing NEW in terms of financial reporting.
If the city complied with existing law, they’d ALREADY be making these available with city council agendas each month on the website.
Measure B says that all “agreements requiring City Council approval” must be posted on the website “prior to city council action.”
These agreements already have to be posted with the city council agendas under current law.
But under current city ordinance, council approval is only required for contracts that exceed $200,000.
It used to be $25,000 ... but that limit was substantially raised in 2018.
And that speaks volumes as to what management at City Hall actually believes.