Righeimer's comments came after he asked City Attorney Tom Duarte at Tuesday's meeting to come back with a written report on how to get a charter city referendum on the June 5 primary election ballot. Voter approval would be required to restructure the city.
Costa Mesa is a general law city, meaning it is bound by the state's general laws and constitution. Becoming a charter city would give city leaders greater control over public works contracts, zoning, outsourcing city services and other areas of the law.
A representative for the Costa Mesa's employee association said she saw the councilman's suggestion as a way to reduce the city workforce.
"This is just another example of how these politicians will ignore the rules to advance their own political agenda," said Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn. (OCEA). "A judge already told them they can't do something, so instead of following the law, they try to change the laws."
When Righeimer introduced the charter idea, he emphasized that the switch would immediately untangle the city from a lawsuit filed by city employees earlier this year.
The foundation of the employees' lawsuit against Costa Mesa is that certain public services cannot be replaced by private businesses because Costa Mesa is a general law city, bound by state laws that prohibit it.
During the summer, a judge ordered an injunction against Costa Mesa that prohibits the city from replacing municipal employees with private-sector workers until the suit is resolved in court. That won't happen until April, at the earliest.
"This process is going to go to appeals and appeals," Righeimer said at the council meeting. "If we could just cut it off by becoming a charter city, a grown-up city like the rest of the cities around us, we wouldn't have to go hat-in-hand to a judge who is telling us we can't do what every other city in the state can do."
Newport Beach is a charter city, as are many of the municipalities in Orange County, such as Irvine and Huntington Beach.