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Mailbag: Residents should write Costa Mesa's charter

December 10, 2011

On Tuesday night (actually, at 1:30 Wednesday morning) the Costa Mesa City Council voted 3 to 1 (Councilwoman Wendy Leece voting no; Mayor Gary Monahan absent) to submit a proposed city charter to the voters.

They voted to use the draft charter that had been written by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer rather than letting the city's residents elect a committee to draft the charter.

In so doing, the council majority effectively said it would be in the city's best interest to use charter language approved by only three council members previously elected by the citizens (Councilman Steve Mensinger was appointed, not elected, to his position; Leece voted against it) than to allow the citizens to elect a 15-person committee for the express purpose of drafting the charter.

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One has to ask, "Whose best interest is the council playing to?"

Something as important as a city charter — in effect, a constitution for the city — needs substantial input from all interests in the city, not just the interests of a small bloc of council members with a political agenda.

I'm not saying the city shouldn't have a charter, but the language and provisions of the charter will determine whether it's good or bad for the city as a whole.

Consider the U.S. Constitution. It's a great document, debated and drafted over a period of months by 55 committed citizens like George Washington and Ben Franklin. How different would it be if it had been drafted in a hurry by three or four of King George's men?

Yes, the charter adoption process requires three public hearings before it goes on the ballot, and the council has committed to at least one town hall meeting on the subject.

But what will this mean?

Will there be any changes from the first draft?

Council members themselves have said they don't make decisions based on what they hear at public hearings. They claim to have "hundreds" of supporters who don't attend hearings and don't send letters. So, how do we know if they'll listen?

Let's look at their record. In January 2011, the council created "working groups," two-member committees tasked with researching various topics. In February, the budget "group" (Righeimer and Monahan) recommended outsourcing 18 city functions. They produced no reports, cited no analysis, and even refused to say what, if anything, was the basis for their recommendations.

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