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Council Calls for Deeper Study into League Membership

Murrieta City Council on Tuesday called for a deeper study into its membership in the League of California Cities.

A closer look will be taken at the return of investment received through the city of Murrieta's membership in the League of California Cities.

The purpose of a Murrieta City Council workshop held Tuesday was to gauge whether council members sought more detailed information on the pros and cons of the membership, and if so, to appoint two council members to a committee for further study of the issue.

More than 400 California cities belong to the League. The city pays $23,500 annually for its membership and has spent approximately $20,000 during the last two years for staff and council members to attend League functions.

"(Council) comments have been made from a cost-benefit perspective," said city of Murrieta Senior Management Analyst Brian Ambrose, who prepared a report on the issue.

Some of the perks, Ambrose said, include daily updates during state Legislature sessions, background on legislative items, Webinars and staff training.

Council members agreed there was value to the trainings.

"Ultimately it's the citizens who benefit," Councilman Alan Long said.

They queried whether the trainings and Webinars—computer courses—could be found elsewhere.

League of California Cities Riverside County Regional Public Affairs Manager Erin Sasse, who was present during the workshop, said membership can not currently be broken up to only include trainings.

Councilwoman Kelly Bennett asked to see a more thorough breakdown than the staff report provided.

"How often do we use (these services); what do we get out of it? Is it substantial? What is the value?" Bennett said. "This is not an attack on the League of Cities, this is an analysis of 'are we getting enough bang for our buck?'"

Greater concerns with League membership were also brought up.

Long said he hasn't "really seen an effort" by the League to help newer cities such as Murrieta, Temecula and Wildomar that are facing different issues than older, more established cities.

"...They don’t have the same issues as us," Long said. "We incorporated after most cities. So most of those cities don’t support those needs...so that is really where I am at right now. I am not advocating that we don’t invest that money."

Mayor Doug McAllister expressed concern with the organizational structure.

"It seems the model of the organization is more of a top-down approach in relating to us instead of a bottom-up," McAllister said. "I call it the Sacramento model..."

The League typically takes a stance on pending legislation, and as such its members cities are called upon to vote.

Ambrose said the city probably agrees with 98 percent of the League's stances. There have been other times when the League may not have been as responsive as the city would have liked.

Such as the League's "late-session, changing position" on Senate Bill 375, which sets environmental standards for cities under the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008. SB 375 will end up harming cities in the future, Ambrose wrote, in the staff report.

"(And) when asked to provide a stance on the local initiatives in 2010, the League was silent," Ambrose wrote.

The initiatives were passed by Murrieta voters and sought to limit city administrative pay and council term limits.

"...When we asked for help with the League—I think every one of us spoke to the League—and what we got was...not a thing," said Mayor Pro Tem Rick Gibbs.

In addition to addressing council's other concerns, Sasse explained the League does not take stances on local issues.

"...Not because we don’t want to be helpful," Sasse said. "The reason the league doesn't get involved is if we did it for one city we would have to do it for all and it would take away from our resources. It is not that we don’t want to be helpful or that the league is turning its back on cities."

Sasse encouraged the city—because it has a prominence in the League with  McAllister as the current president of the Riverside County Division and Councilman Randon Lane serving on this year's board of directors for the National League of Cities—to exercise its leadership.

"That should give you a strong voice," Sasse said.

McAllister said there really were three options: stick with the status quo; dual membership with the League and another association; or third, leave and join another. A fourth option was to "leave and not join anything," he said.

Direction was given to city staff to bring back a more comprehensive study of League membership, which will be an agenda item on a future council meeting.

Council members agreed that Long and McAllister should serve on the ad hoc committee, as they have had prior discussions surrounding a similar organization, Association of California Cities. Their findings will be presented when the staff's findings are.

"I am only going to be president of the division for a couple more months so I have an opportunity, a little time to make a difference in the league. I think we have an opportunity to say 'folks, these are (the things that are) troubling us," McAllister said.

Lane, who initially at a previous meeting, said the League should be present at any future meetings on the subject.

"Whatever discussion we have, in all fairness to the League, (we should be) giving them the ability to present (their) arguments."

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