Murrieta City Council Nov. 21 granted new powers to the city manager to settle lawsuits, addressed changes to its transition-of-power ceremonies and approved a letter affirming support for a lawsuit that would prevent the city of Poway from implementing changes to district elections, something Murrieta was forced to do earlier this year.
The council voted to authorize the city manager to settle claims and demands against the city of up to $50,000 without ratification by the city council.
Previously, the city manager was only allowed to settle claims with the council’s approval.
Implementing the threshold is a common practice I many local jurisdictions,” Linda Le, city administrative services director, told councilmembers. “Claims above the $50,000 threshold will continue to be presented to your council in closed session.”
The measure was approved unanimously without debate.
Councilmembers also voted unanimously to return to its original method of selecting a new mayor and holding transitional ceremonies at the same meeting.
In February, the council approved a measure dividing the transition of councilmembers into two parts. The new mayor, usually selected on a rotating basis once a year, was to be selected at the first meeting in December, and ceremonies recognizing the new mayor and any new councilmembers were to be moved to the second meeting of December.
“I don’t know why it was changed in the first place,” Seyarto said. “The tradition has always been that we come in, we make our vote for the mayor, we change seats, we have a break, and then when we come back we are re-organized and we move forward.”
The new method created a situation in which an outgoing mayor who may no longer be on the city council would have to return for a second council meeting to take part in ceremonies, said City Manager Kim Summers.
“It creates kind of an awkward position,” she said.
City staff recommended the council return to its original method of selecting a new mayor and holding transition ceremonies at the same meeting, and councilmembers agreed.
Councilmembers approved a letter of support – again unanimously – in former Poway mayor Don Higginson’s lawsuit against the state of California to prevent his city from switching to by-district city council elections.
Poway, which like most other small cities in California had previously held its council elections at-large, had moved to adopt district elections after receiving a letter from attorney Kevin Shenkman threatening a lawsuit on the basis that at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act by giving taking away voting power from nonwhite minorities.
Higginson countered in his lawsuit that requiring cities to change to district elections based on racial considerations was unconstitutional. He also asked for an injunction in enforcement of the California Voting Rights Act while his case is being decided in court.
Murrieta, like Poway, adopted district elections earlier this year after receiving a letter from Shenkman, despite resistance to the idea from city councilmembers.
City Attorney Leslie Devaney told councilmembers the letter of support would be a great way to express opposition to district elections without exposing the city to a lawsuit – which was what councilmembers wanted to avoid when they begrudgingly enacted districts.
The council agreed, and approved the letter of support with little discussion.