Up close and personal with Manhattan Beach City Council candidates
On March 5, Manhattan Beach residents will determine which of the six candidates below will occupy the three soon-to-be vacant seats on City Council. Each candidates sat down with the Easy Reader to share personal details of why he wants the job.
Candidates appear in alphabetical order.
Mark Burton: ‘I’m that sergeant’
There’s an analogy that Mark Burton often used during jury selection as a prosecutor for the City of Los Angeles.
“Let’s pretend you and I have to go to battle,” Burton, 59, explained. “We’ve got a choice between two leaders: a lieutenant who graduated from West Point at the top of his class with the best scores in the history of West Point. Or a sergeant with 30 years of experience; he’s been in 200 battles, and you know what, he’s the most successful sergeant of accomplishing a mission and bringing back his people safe.”
The answer is obvious, he said. Experience, as his father used to tell him, is and has proven to be the best teacher. And as a retired senior assistant city attorney for the City of Los Angeles with 30 years of public service under his belt, he feels he can bring precisely that to the Manhattan Beach City Council, he said, if elected on March 5.
“I’m that sergeant,” Burton said. “That’s the best leadership I’ve got; that’s the experience I’ve got.”
During his 30-year career as a prosecutor and municipal attorney, Burton, a Montreal native, has served in a variety of capacities, serving as a general counsel to the Los Angeles Fire and Police Departments as well as to the LAX Airport Police & Risk Manager.
Following the 1992 L.A. Riots, Burton acted as the lead negotiator between the city and the United States Department of Justice in procuring the largest reform in the history of LAPD.
Burton, who retired last February, had been telling people around him that he believed his best years of public service are ahead of him when he learned about the three open council seats, he said. That’s it, he told himself.
“I can’t think of a better way to spend my time in retirement, than in public service,” he said. “I know through all my experiences, especially managerial experiences, how to manage a city and all the issues that a city has to address. I know I’d be a wonderful resource for the council members.”
Burton, who at one point was the designated expert lawyer on all Brown Act issues for city attorneys, said he wants to ensure that the city never becomes complacent in abiding by open government policies.
“When you hear politicians talking about transparency,” Burton explained, “they’re talking about the bare minimum—the letter of the law. But it should be the spirit of the law.”
Burton is rallying to take transparency many strides farther, starting with Manhattan Beach City Council meetings.
“I notice frequently that the important issues in the community are at the end of the agenda—that’s at 11 at night,” he explained. “That’s an indicator to me that you really don’t want the public input. If there’s something important it needs to be at the front of the agenda so people can actually come up and speak and they can be heard.”
In addition, he noted that the public should have received regular status reports about the city’s ongoing union negotiations and pension reform—which Mayor Wayne Powell announced two weeks ago during a candidates forum that it is close to consummation—and allotted time for comment.
“It’s that insular culture,” he said. “We have to open up to best practices.”
In his first days serving as senior prosecutor, Burton received a piece of advice from his trainer that he still remembers today.
“He told me that I should make my decision in the interest of justice,” he said. “… Now it’s about what’s in the best interest of the city. It was the perfect training for it.”
Tony D’Errico: ‘Our city is a service business’
During the first six, seven years of his residence in Manhattan Beach, Tony D’Errico, a New York native, was running a software company based in Santa Monica. He was traveling constantly, logging close to 150,000 miles a year.
“I loved living here and it was my home base, but I was living as much in hotels and on airplanes or in airports as I was here,” D’Errico, 64, said.
Everything changed when he met his wife Kristine Mackerer, a 35-year Manhattan Beach resident. Through Mackerer’s deep ties to the community, D’Errico became close friends with locals, many of whom had lived here for 30, 40 or 50 years, he said.
“These are people I know, my friends, people I care about,” said D’Errico, who with his wife owns two businesses, Bella Beach and Bella Beach Kids, in downtown. “I care about where we live, I care about our community.”
Serving the city that he calls his home base is why he is vying for a seat on the Manhattan Beach City Council. And with a 30-year executive career in the services sector, D’Errico truly believes he has the skill sets required for the job.
“Our city is a service business—that’s what it is, that’s what it should be,” he said. “Our city’s customers are 37,000 residents, some 4,000 businesses and several hundred thousand visitors every year. And we have one job: provide services.”
Easily said than done, yes, but he’s done it before—at a much larger scale.
The City of Manhattan Beach, he notes, has annual revenue of $100 million with roughly 280 employees. The company he ran a decade ago, on the other hand, was a $300 million business with 1,400 employees throughout Asia-Pacific and Europe.
Such experience, D’Errico said, has deemed him an expert in service provisioning, employee relations, risk management and contract negotiations—all necessary skills to run a city.
“Everything I’ve ever run in my life as an executive has had balanced budget and has been profitable,” he said. “I’ve always grown revenue.”
With his background and expertise in the services sector, D’Errico has a few ideas on how the City of Manhattan Beach can take strides toward “delighting the customers,” he said.
“Our city needs to measure our customer satisfaction, the same way I did it in corporations,” D’Errico said.
That can be easily done by hiring a company inexpensively and creating an online survey for residents. Or, he added, the city can hold focus groups.
”We’ve been doing things the same way for 20 years,” D’Errico said. “Probably 80 percent of it is perfect, but you’ve got to change the things that aren’t.”
Mark Lipps: ‘I’m coming from the trenches’
Mark Lipps’ neighbors jokingly refer to him as the unofficial mayor of 35th Street—because not only does he organize all the block parties and gourmet clubs, he also helps catch peeping Toms as the neighborhood watch block captain.
Since moving to Manhattan Beach with his family 17 years ago, Lipps has thrown himself into serving the community in various capacities beyond merely his block.
He is a graduate from the Community Police Academy and Leadership Manhattan Beach; he coaches youth soccer and baseball teams; he regularly participates in beach clean ups; he does volunteer work with the Manhattan Beach Rotary Club; and as a parent of three kids raised through the Manhattan Beach Unified School District he has spent many hours fundraising for the school board.
Now, he has decided to take it up a notch by vying for a seat on the Manhattan Beach City Council.
“I’m the organic candidate,” said Lipps, 56. “The guy of the community, for the community, by the community … The things that I did for the last 17 years, that was not for photo ops. That was really me.”
Born and raised in a small farm town in southern Illinois, Lipps said he has appreciated the cozy vibe of Manhattan Beach since passing through as a young man in 1979—“in my bohemian days,” he noted, smiling.
So when he took a job in Century City as Fox Broadcasting Company’s vice president of network distribution, he with his wife and two kids—another was on the way—settled into Manhattan Beach. The pedestrian lifestyle especially thrilled him, he recalled.
“Even though I was in the television business, there was every excuse not to watch TV here in Manhattan Beach,” Lipps said.
This small-town quality, he said, is precisely what he would fight to preserve if elected onto council. Especially with the proposed expansion of Manhattan Village mall inciting concern among residents, the city should not lose sight of the community’s best interest.
“They basically want to build Del Amo,” Lipps said. “We don’t want that. That’s not Manhattan Beach.”
It’s called Manhattan Village for a reason, he noted. The mall renovations should focus on serving the Manhattan Beach residents, whether it’s in the form of a community center for senior citizens or a Manhattan Beach Police Department substation, he said.
“It’s time we had a police substation east of Sepulveda where we can have a better shot at protecting our citizens,” Lipps said. “If our citizens feel safe, a lot of other things fall into place.”
After all, he said, ensuring the safety and quality lifestyle of his fellow citizens is his only agenda in seeking a seat on council.
“I’m not coming from a political background. I’ve come up through the trenches,” Lipps said. “I’m for the best interest of this community, the 99 percent, the silent majority.”
Viet Ngo: ‘The public will be informed’
The first Manhattan Beach City Council meeting that Viet Ngo, 62, had ever participated in dates back to 1996.
Ngo, who grew up in Vietnam near the ocean, had been a Manhattan Beach resident for about 20 years.
“I got involved because city council wanted to commercialize public space, the beach, for a private enterprise,” said Ngo, a retired technical specialist.
So he paired up with a Hermosa Beach activist and filed lawsuits against both Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach city officials, and Ngo said the judge granted an injunction against council.
“During that time, I had no intention with city activity,” he said.
But he began attend the council meetings regularly. Ngo took up a passionate interest in municipal, state and federal case laws and codes, visiting local libraries to study them thoroughly.
Since, he has barely missed a meeting, where he introduces himself as the anti-Manhattan Beach City Council corruption activist. Ngo has accused council members and city staff of corruption for many years and has recently said he has evidence that city officials are using public funds for personal use.
But come March 5, his name will be on the ballot as a candidate to serve on the Manhattan Beach City Council.
“I believe that I’m the only one who knows of the ongoing corruption existing in City Hall,” Ngo said.
“I got involved because I was seeing something wrong here,” he added. “The public will be informed.”
Wayne Powell: ‘Look at…the last few years’
When Wayne Powell was a sophomore at Palos Verdes High School, he ran for a position on student council. A tie between him and his opponent led to a coin toss by the principal, which trivially determined his loss.
“And I said, I will never again for the rest of my life ever run for anything, period,” said Powell, chuckling.
He broke that personal vow in 2009 when he ran for a seat in Manhattan Beach City Council, and he’s doing it again. Powell, whose first term as a councilmember expires next month, is running to serve four more years on City Council in hopes of continuing his efforts toward increasing public engagement, maintaining the city’s AAA bond rating and hosting an open, inclusive government.
About 17 years ago, Powell was living in Redondo Beach and working at a CPA firm when he began visiting his colleagues in Manhattan Beach. “And I told myself, I know I’m going to wind up there,” he said.
Indeed, he made the move and got involved in the community immediately. A colleague who was a volunteer for the annual Manhattan Beach Hometown Fair asked him if he wanted to help out. The rest, as they say, was history.
Between 2000 and 2009, he served on a variety of city commissions, including cultural arts, planning and parking & public improvements. Then in 2009, he won his council seat by a 47-vote margin that was “too close for comfort,” Powell said.
During his council and mayoral term, Powell, 60, made it his mission to increase public participation. He successfully spearheaded the effort to move the public comment time from the end to the beginning of City Council meetings. Additionally, he rallied to lift the 15-minute total time limit on audience participation.
For his mayoral term beginning last May, Powell adopted the theme “I Heart MB,” setting aside the first half hour of every council meeting to recognize a distinguished older adult, a youth member and a community organization who have “given back in a great way,” Powell said.
Powell has also made it a priority to maintain close contact with the community he serves. In addition to following up with every email he receives from residents, he hosts the weekly Mayor’s Walk ‘n Talk—a morning group stroll with residents, from The Strand to the Hermosa Beach or El Segundo border and back. He also initiated the Mayor’s Town Hall series, which has included a workshop on earthquake safety and preparedness as well as a public forum called “Meet Your City.”
Recently, he’s taken it one step further. As part of his campaign, he is going door-to-door throughout the community to introduce himself and hear residents’ concerns, a routine he plans to continue regularly if re-elected, Powell said.
“The more public comment we get, the better decisions we make,” he said.
Other accomplishments from his first term, Powell said, include his successful initiative in ruling out Manhattan Beach for the Broad Beach sand dredging project and maintaining a balanced budget throughout his four years on council. (As a former CFO and financial controller at a CPA firm, he said he is considered the council’s “bean counter.”)
“This year we actually have a surplus,” he explained. “We did it without raising taxes, without imposing new taxes and with no cuts to essential services.”
Candidates may make various promises during a campaign, but he takes them seriously, as evidenced by his time on council, Powell said.
“Look at what I’ve done in the last few years,” he said.
Mitch Ward: ‘Now is the time’
The city had just recently suffered a public art debacle, Ward, 51, recalled, and as a professional actor with training in theater, comedy and drama, he welcomed the opportunity to bring that cultural background into Manhattan Beach’s art program.
After four years, during which time he helped establish designated funding for the city’s art program, he moved on to serve on the city’s planning commission. Then he moved on to the Manhattan Beach City Council for two terms from 2003 to 2011, serving as mayor in 2006, then again between 2009 and 2010.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s my heart, and such a joy.”
Under the city’s term-limit law, Manhattan Beach council members, after serving two terms, are required to be out of office for at least two years before they are eligible to run again.
And now that his two-year wait is up, Ward is running to serve a third term on the Manhattan Beach City Council.
“It’s no secret that if I could’ve run for re-election in 2011 to continue to publicly serve, I would have,” Ward said. “Everyone knows Mitch likes to be publicly serving.”
Ward kept busy during the two years off council, running his IT company, pC Help? Professionals, on Sepulveda Boulevard, and acting in professional plays and national commercials. However, he never lost his focus of helping others, he said.
“It’s what I have the energy to do,” he said. “It’s what I want to continue to do if I’m fortunate to serve four more years in Manhattan Beach. It’ll be a wonderful thing.”
His main goal as a councilmember is, and has always been, to improve the quality of life for Manhattan Beach residents, he said.
Though cost-saving is always “priority number one,” Ward said he wants to shift some of that focus onto improving existing programs and exploring new ones for the city’s youth and older adults.
“Our focus has been on saving and cutting back on some programs,” Ward explained, “but when times start to improve, we’d look to perhaps bring some of the programs back.”
One of the reasons why he initially got involved with the city in 1995, Ward explained, was to see a community performing arts center come to fruition in Manhattan Beach. But at the time, that dream was overshadowed by other pressing priorities, such as the need for a new police and fire facility and the construction of the Metlox shopping center.
“But now is the time,” he said.