The Time the Voters Recalled a Long Beach City Manager
From the City Manager Bulletin 1922
Long Beach is currently hearing the rumblings of an effort to recall Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce. Efforts to recall elected officials are not uncommon. But in 1922, Long Beach voters actually recalled the city manager.
The city had adopted a council-manager form of government – a concept promoted nationally to professionalize the administration of local government. City departments had been controlled by politicians, which meant that city jobs and contracts went to political friends and supporters.
A city manager was viewed as a business manager who controlled how the city spent its money. Local government had historically been “managed” by the elected “freeholders,” “trustees,” or “aldermen,” as city council members were first called.
In 1921, Long Beach citizens who proclaimed they were “disgusted” with the proposals of the elected officials, circulated a petition to change the charter and appoint a city manager. Long Beach amended its charter on a vote of 3,237 to 2,508 and adopted the city council-manager structure.
The council hired Charles E. Hewes as city manager. More than 50 had applied for the new position which paid $7,500. Hewes had served as manager in two other cities: Alhambra and Alameda. Hewes had testified before the Long Beach City Council during debates on whether or not Long Beach should adopt the council-manager form of government. He was considered one of the most qualified and respected city managers in the state when he was hired in Long Beach.
Upon appointment as city manager, he set about to cut city jobs and “adjust” wages. Hewes also brought significant changes to Long Beach especially with the city’s Public Health Department. He expanded the department to include moving the public health officer from his home to a city office and adding a public nurse, sanitary and milk inspectors, health department clerk, statistician and veterinarian. Hewes also announced the “establishment of an emergency hospital, purchase of a municipal ambulance and a rigid system of food and sanitation inspection.” He proclaimed that the newly found oil would result in $300,000 in revenue, which would be used for civic improvements.
His professionalism was met with resistance in a city that was controlled by those who benefited from politicians. Hewes was quoted in a 1922 newspaper that in his new job he had to battle the Southern Pacific Railroad “which insists running its freight train right down the main thoroughfare” and the many who had been political leaders in other communities before they moved to Long Beach and “immediately assume the reins of government in our community and the cause of no end of trouble.”
Hewes was described as “a fine big fellow but no diplomat.” His largest opposition came from when he tried to take on the Police Department. In November 1922, he fired Police Chief Ben Mc Lendon, after he arrested three men involved in disrupting a political rally. Two of the three arrested were former Long Beach police chiefs and the third was a known leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Mc Lendon alleged that the two former chiefs, Butterfield and Cole, were also members of the KKK.
Within two weeks of the firing, a recall effort was launched. Advertisements appeared in the daily newspaper. As the professional “city manager” bulletin described: “In numerous other cases, the manager was made the brunt of attack for actions for which the council was responsible and for which, to the well-informed, fair-minded citizen the council need make no excuses.”
Hewes was recalled by a vote of 5,837 to 4,000. Mc Lendon applied for Hewes’ job. Former Mayor Charles Windham was appointed city manager. Hewes became an executive with the Southern Electric power company.
Later voters removed the provision in the City Charter that allowed recall of the city manager.