Sandbox: Redondo Beach city attorney at contention since charter adoption

The Redondo Beach city charter, approved by a January 4, 1949 election, established a city manager and an elected city attorney.

by Ron Maroko

Looking back, it is arguably the best $1,500 Redondo Beach ever spent.  Seventy-five years ago, on January 21, 1949, the California legislature approved a new charter for the City of Redondo Beach that changed the landscape at City Hall. Since 1935, Redondo Beach had operated under a charter from the State of California. Prior to that, Redondo was operated as a “general law” city of the sixth class.  

“A City Charter provides cities maximum local control over matters of local concern,” explained Michael W. Webb, Redondo Beach City Attorney last year.  “Charter city laws dealing with purely municipal affairs are valid even if they conflict with general laws of the state.”  

The 1949 charter differed from the earlier charter in that it created the city manager position.  Under the new charter, the city manager would become the administrative head of the city.He would be the person who appoints all department heads and is responsible for their performances.  

The Council Manager form of government, as it is often called, allows the City Council to focus on policy and the City Manager to focus on the day-to-day operations of the City.  

“What makes it special, is that it blends representative democracy with professional executive leadership,” said Redondo Beach City Manager Mike Witzansky in explaining the benefits of this type of government. The goal is to run the City “in a manner that is professional, apolitical, and focused on the delivery of quality services to the community.” 

“We the people…” are the first words famously found in the United States Constitution.  “We, the people…” are also the first words of the 1949 Redondo Beach Charter.  These initial words reflect that the ultimate power to govern the City belongs to the residents of Redondo Beach.  On January 4, 1949, the residents voted for the new charter.  In doing so, they ceded certain responsibilities to the council and others to the new position of City Manager.  

It is only by a vote of the people that this dynamic did and can change.

The Charter is a living document. Change requires a vote of the people of Redondo Beach.  The charter  has been amended by the voters over 25 times since it was adopted 75 years ago. Most recently, on March 7, 2023, the voters approved multiple amendments, including making the language of the charter gender neutral.  

The new city charter had its origins in the 1947 city election. That year the public voted on over a dozen proposals to amend the 1935 charter, and also severaladvisory votes (“expression by the voters”), in addition to deciding who would be the mayor, serve on the council, be the city attorney and be the other city elected officials.  

One of the 1947 advisory votes that was not successful was, “Are you in favor of a city manager form of government for Redondo Beach?” It received 1,529 votes in favor and 1,731 votes against.  Also in the 1947 election, Maynard B. Henry defeated incumbent William E. MacFadden for City Attorney.  These individuals played a part in creating the upcoming charter changes. 

On April 5, 1948, the Redondo Council voted to write to the League of California Cities to investigate the “cost and details involved in writing a new charter.”  The proposed cost would be $3,500. However, former City Attorney William E. MacFaden wrote to the counsel, in a letter dated April 16, 1948, that he could draft a new city charter for $1,500.  At its May 17, 1948 meeting, the Council, in a unanimous vote, approved entering a contract with MacFadden to draft the new charter, and directed the newly elected  City Attorney Maynard B. Henry to assist MacFadden.  

At that time, Mayor Charles H. Wortham requested that the new charter include provisions for a city manager form of government. In September 1948, the first draft of the new charter was ready for the council to review. On November 15, 1948, the Council unanimously accepted the proposed charter and set an election date.  On January 4, 1949, voters approved the new charter and, on January 20, the State Assembly approved the charter, followed by State Senate approval the same day. It was thereafter certified by the California Secretary of State. 

MacFadden, who lost the 1947 election to Henry, was the appointed City Attorney for Hawthorne from 1944-1946.  In 1960, he was appointed as a Judge to the Los Angeles Municipal Court, and later became a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge.  Henry won reelection to a four-year term under the new charter on April 12, 1949, garnering all but 10 votes.  

Less than a month later he resigned.  Former City Attorney Frank L. Perry was appointed as Henry’s replacement.  Perry, who was the first elected City Attorney under the 1935 Charter, had been soundly defeated for the position by MacFadden in 1943.  

Today, the Redondo Beach Charter is again under review.  Similar to the election of 1947, a proposal to make the City Attorney position appointed by the Council rather than elected by the citizens has been advanced to the Council.

In 1947, the measure made its way to the ballot and was defeated: 518 in favor of the change and 2,824 against. One year later, the new charter passed with the citizens again favoring an elected City Attorney.   As an aside, prior to adopting the 1934 Charter the City Attorney position was appointed; after 1934 it was elected.  Since 1934 there have been multiple attempts to put the City Attorney position under the control of the Council. The voters have repeatedly rejected attempts to make it an appointed position.. The last time the issue came to ballot was in 1999, as an advisory vote, with 1,359 voting in favor of making the position appointed and 4,490 voting to keep it elected.  Stay tuned to see if the current Council puts the issue on the issue on the ballot again.

“The Mayor, City Attorney, City Clerk, and City Treasurer are elected by, can only be replaced by, and therefore are directly accountable to the people of Redondo Beach,” said City Attorney Webb last year.  

Seventy-five years later, the Charter remains relevant to the way Redondo Beach is governed and, according to Webb, “maximizes voter control over local government through a robust system of checks and balances.” ER

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