Dear Editor – Police and Fire Departments Are Special

Light-bulb-0003-300x198Dear Editor,

Like most California cities today, we face problems that require local solutions incorporating diverse perspectives. Nationwide, however, we see deepening distrust of civic institutions among some groups and declining participation in local government. Culver City Measure CA would exacerbate these trends locally without conferring any clear benefit.

Measure CA sounds deceptively harmless. A “yes” vote is a vote to take final authority over the hiring, firing, and supervision of the Police Chief and Fire Chief away from the City Council and give it to the City Manager.

Currently, our City Council has ultimate authority over just four key city employees: the City Attorney, City Manager, Fire Chief, and Police Chief. The City Manager is in charge of theheads of the departments of the City Clerk; Community Development; Finance; Human Resources; Information Technology; Parks, Recreation & Community Service; Public Works; and Transportation.

This division makes sense. The police and fire departments are special. These important institutions must be accountable and transparent to the people. The first step to ensuring accountability and transparency is to place our elected leaders firmly in charge. That way, citizens can bring concerns about the police or fire departments directly to any of five Councilmembers, each of whom can speak with authority to the Police Chief or Fire Chief. If we are not satisfied with our police or fire departments, we can hold City Council up to our standards by voting for change.

Culver City’s unique approach to the supervision of the Police Chief and Fire Chief increases the stakes of individual participation in local government in the areas where citizen oversight is most important. This puts more power in the hands of the people, which demonstrably increases civic engagement as measured by voter turnout. (Hajnal and Wood 2003). A 10-person charter review committee crafted this wise democratic enhancement to the typical Council-Manager system 10 years ago, after 22 public meetings and extensive research.

In contrast, Measure CA was concocted by a two-person “committee” after an unknown number of secret meetings. There simply was no careful consideration of this proposed charter amendment or its consequences. That is clear from the absence of any compelling argument for changing a system that is working very well for Culver City.

Given the lack of public input in the development of Measure CA, it is understandable that one of its fatal defects is that it would discourage civic engagement. I am joining Councilmembers Meghan Sahli-Wells and Thomas Small to vote NO on Measure CA. I hope that you will too.


Hajnal, Zoltan L. and Paul G. Lewis. 2003. “Municipal Institutions and Voter Turnout in Local Elections.” Urban Affairs Review 38(5): 645-668.

Alex Fisch

The Actors' Gang

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