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SM’s Electoral Process:

The pros and cons of Santa Monica’s electoral process were the subject of a community meeting on Monday, May 14.

This meeting was a follow-up to a City Council discussion back in March which focused on the impact of negative campaigns and false literature, the lack of women and minority candidates, the increase of independent expenditures, increasing the $250 campaign contribution limit, public financing and improving the City’s democratic process.

Residents first expressed their views on what works well in the City’s electoral process. Those who spoke noted that the City’s $250 campaign contribution limit, candidate training, easy access to candidates and elected officials, the clean campaign pledge and turn-around time for getting information on the web all are positives in the City’s current democratic process. Other positives included high voter turnout, a large number of locations to vote and the availability of debates and public forums.

However, most who participated felt there was plenty of room for improvement in order “to level the playing field” for the voters, those seeking office or those trying to pass an initiative. Direct election of the mayor, term limits and having councilmembers elected by district came up as they have in the past, with some speaking for and against these issues.

There were also some new suggestions. One resident requested that there be increased mentoring for candidates so more women and minorities will seek office. Another resident felt the City shouldn’t rely so much on the web to disperse election information because there are many people in the City who don’t have computers or web access.

Former Mayor Michael Feinstein believes the current “candidate debates aren’t deep enough” and therefore recommended having debates that focus on specific issues. He also suggested having a nonprofit do the fact-checking on election mailers because in past elections there haven’t been enough resources to handle this.

Pier Restoration Corporation Chair Ellen Brennan stressed the need for public financing of elections by noting, “It’s money that runs elections.” She said there are good people out there who would run but they can’t raise enough money to do so. Brennan also called for a fund to be created so candidates who are attacked verbally will have the funds for rebuttal.

The Chair of the Wilshire/Montana Neighborhood Group, Jeanne Vobson, noted that in her view over the years “the people have lost control of our City to the business interests.” To deal with this, she suggested that elected officials should have more outreach in the community by either having paid staff members or ombudsmen.

Convention and Visitors Bureau member Bruce Cameron noted there is a need to report campaign expenditures when they are incurred.

A staff report will be prepared for the Council based on the meeting’s input as well as the input received from those who are participating in the City Clerk’s survey on the issue. City Clerk Maria Stewart announced that the Council will be reviewing the issue at the end of the summer.

Those who were unable to attend the meeting can still express their views through the City Clerk’s survey (smgov.net) or they can call the City Clerk at 310.458.8211 to have a survey mailed.

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