Critics challenged proposed Newport Beach city charter amendments at a community forum this week, drawing a rebuke from city officials.
The Wednesday debate, hosted by Speak Up Newport, highlighted some of the most contentious proposals for the city constitution.
Voters in November will be asked to vote on 38 changes — from conflict-of-interest to City Council compensation rules — all in one yes or no vote on Measure EE.
Supporters say it would make mostly clerical changes and codify practices already in place, while opponents say it would weaken public protections and the amendments shouldn't all be rolled together.
"If you're against one of them, you need to vote against it," said panelist Ron Hendrickson.
Councilman Keith Curry argued that the charter changes are mostly innocuous, and that a citizens group hashed out the issues before they were vetted by the council.
Conflict of interest
Curry defended some conflict-of-interest revisions, which would extend restrictions to committee members, but could allow other officials to have a financial stake in city contracts.
The charter today says that council members and department heads cannot have a financial interest in any city contract, sale or transaction.
If approved, the change would allow officials to have a financial stake in such city agreements, so long as they aren't the ones making the contract or influencing the decision.
"The changes to the conflict of interest provisions protect the council, not the public," the opponents write in their ballot argument.
State laws, Curry said, provide sufficient protections. Today's charter restriction could have unintended consequences, he argued. For instance, it could prevent someone who works at the Balboa Bay Club, Curry said, from running for council because the city leases land to the club.
"Do we really want to be the kind of city where if you have a business on the harbor, you can't run for the City Council?" he asked.
Opponents have hounded Curry for adding a ban against red-light cameras into the measure after the Citizens Charter Update Committee approved a list of changes and recommended the council adopt them.
"They become revenue raisers for local governments," Curry said of the cameras.
He also added a charter amendment in 2010 that he said closes a Proposition 13 loophole. But council critic Jim Mosher calls both of Curry's proposals "red herrings" that were added just to sway votes in favor of the larger package of measures.