August 30, 2007

State of the City hoopla

LAAG told the County of LA essentially the same thing regarding its own "state of the county" luncheon Nov 1. Why should non profit organizations (like LAAG) and taxpayers in the city be forced to pay to hear politicians speak about issues that should be fully discussed and detailed on their website? The City of Lakewood (although not a charter city like Long Beach) needs to take note and end this silly luncheon. Much better to raise money with firework sales (just kidding about the fireworks!!).

Mayor To End State Of City Luncheon
By Harry Saltzgaver
Executive Editor

There will be a State of the City message next January and in every January until and unless the city Charter changes.

But that message probably won’t be delivered at a luncheon sponsored by the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce after next year. Mayor Bob Foster has told the Chamber that he doesn’t believe anyone should receive a financial benefit for a speech delivered to fulfill a requirement of the Charter.

Becki Ames, Foster’s chief of staff, said last week that the mayor wouldn’t participate in a State of the City luncheon after 2008. Randy Gordon, Chamber president and CEO, said Tuesday that he and Chamber board members had met with Foster last month, but hadn’t resolved all he issues.

“After we met with the mayor in late July, we knew it (2009) most likely wasn’t going to happen, but it wasn’t a done deal,” Gordon said. “We knew this was coming because of the mayor’s philosophy. But we were leaving it up to him.”

Foster gave notice last year that he wasn’t comfortable with the format of a luncheon raising money for the Chamber, and asked the group to donate money to three nonprofit groups from part of the proceeds. The Chamber gave $5,000 to each of the groups for a total of $15,000, and Gordon said he expects to give away significantly more after the January 2008 event.

“We’re still negotiating what we are going to give to nonprofits, but it is going to be substantially more,” he said. “We want to do that, especially if it is the last one.”

Foster was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Since the early 1990s, the Chamber has sponsored a lunch with the State of the City speech as its centerpiece. During former Mayor Beverly O’Neill’s tenure, the luncheon became a must-attend event, drawing up to 1,500 people.

When the City Charter was amended in 1988 to create the position of a fulltime mayor, a section was added requiring a state of the city message similar to the State of the Union required of the president:

“On or before the 15th day of January of each year, the Mayor shall communicate by message to the City Council a statement of the conditions and affairs of the City, and make recommendations on such matters as the Mayor may deem expedient and proper.”

But, according to City Attorney Robert Shannon, there is no requirement that the message to the council be made in a speech, or even made public.

Before O’Neill’s term in office, mayors presented the speech to the council, typically at the second City Council meeting of the year. The Chamber first started hosting a lunch to give the mayor a chance to give the message to the public when Tom Clark was in office, according to Randy Gordon, Chamber president and CEO.

In O’Neill’s last year in office, the State of the City netted about $100,000 after expenses, Gordon said. That included a major sponsorship and corporate tables going for as much as $1,895. Individual tickets were $45, which about covered the cost of the meal, Gordon said.

But the Chamber has become increasingly political in recent years, endorsing candidates and providing money through a separate Chamber Political Action Committee. The Chamber has sued the city regarding campaign finance laws and mounted petition drives against City Council action on issues including a “Labor Peace Agreement” for city hotels and a ban on big box stores.

Several council members, most notably Seventh District Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga (whom the Chamber opposed in the last municipal election), have complained that the city government was supporting a group that apparently opposed city policies.

Foster, who received the Chamber endorsement in the last election, had not made that fact an issue.

Instead, his emphasis has been to find a way that no individual group benefited from the Charter-mandated message.

Ironically, the Long Beach Chamber will sponsor its first “State of the County” luncheon this November, featuring a speech from Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe. But that event was not planned in response to the pending demise of the State of the City luncheon.

“It, frankly was something we should have done a long time ago,” Grodon said. “Long Beach is the largest city in Supervisor Knabe’s district by far.

“You aren’t going to replace a $100,000 or $125,000 hole in your budget overnight. But we’ll do some other, smaller events to take up the slack.”

The Chamber’s State of the County lunch is set for Nov. 1. For more information, go to

Lakewood Accountability Action Group™ LAAG | | Lakewood, CA
A California Non Profit Association | Demanding action and accountability from local government™

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