OCEANSIDE — City Council is getting an ethics code for its members and aides as well as a possible initiative on the November 2020 ballot that would limit members and the mayor to three terms.
The ethics code and term limits came from a Sept. 18 workshop meant to discuss pay for council members, the necessity of council aides, term limits for council members and council campaign contributions.
Previously in June, council directed staff to schedule a workshop to discuss the four previously listed topics after Councilman Chris Rodriguez and Mayor Peter Weiss originally proposed a workshop to look at information regarding increases to council salary pay, bumping members to full-time positions and establishing term limits, with the possibility of putting such changes on the November 2020 ballot.
Oceanside is one of several San Diego County cities that currently do not have term limits for City Council members. Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas, Escondido, Solana Beach and Vista also do not have term limits for its members, while cities like San Marcos and San Diego have three consecutive term limits.
Council directed staff to return with the necessary actions to place council term limits on the ballot. The initiative would ban council members from serving longer than three consecutive terms. Council members who serve three terms can still run for mayor, which would also have a three-term limit established under the same initiative.
In terms of campaign contributions, Oceanside follows the Political Reform Act, which establishes that there are no limits to contributions unless a local campaign ordinance is imposed. Oceanside has no other requirements.
At the workshop, council also gave direction to staff to return with a report on Independent Expenditures (IEs) reporting and enforcement by the city. An IE is a political campaign contribution made for the election or defeat of a candidate that is not made in cooperation with said candidate.
Assistant City Clerk Vaida Pavolas said IEs are required to be reported following a contribution of $1,000 or more to a campaign. Though it is a requirement, the city does not enforce it.
According to City Attorney John Mullen’s analysis, there are often various legal issues regarding campaign contribution limits.
“In general, contribution limits potentially infringe on a contributor’s ability to engage in free communication and association and there restrict First Amendment freedoms,” Mullen’s report states.
Russ Fuerst, an Oceanside resident and lawyer by trade, noted that many cities in San Diego County have campaign finance ordinances and suggested that Oceanside follow suit.
“It looks like 14 of the 18 cities in San Diego County have some kind of a local finance ordinance, and I think that’s an indication that people want them,” he said.
The mayor is paid $36,695 annually, a lower than average amount for San Diego County cities, and council members are paid $33,993, a higher than average amount in the county. Currently, the city charter does not specify if members are considered full- or part-time.
Rodriguez explained that he did not want a salary raise for himself; rather, he wanted the city to consider it to attract “better quality candidates” in the future.
Each council member is also allowed to hire an aide. Oceanside and Vista are the only cities with the exception of San Diego that have aides for each council member.
Most of the council members agreed that aides were beneficial, though Deputy Mayor Jack Feller pointed out he would be ready to terminate aides when need be.
Though a Code of Ethics was not originally planned for the workshop, several members of the public wanted such a document to be created. Councilwoman Esther Sanchez made the motion to create such language.
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son