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Charter interpretation discussed at public hearing

Attorney says charter wouldn't void employee pensions, current contracts. Leece concerned about vague language in document.

July 11, 2012|By Joseph Serna

Costa Mesa's proposed charter does not allow the City Council to run roughshod over city laws and become unaccountable to the public, Special Counsel Kimberly Hall Barlow said Tuesday.

"I don't see anything in here that changes the fundamental right of the people to elect their elected officials, come to public hearings, to do the same type of things the public can do when their council is here," Barlow said during Costa Mesa's second public hearing on the proposed charter expected on November's ballot.

After residents praised, but mostly criticized, a city charter borne out of the council majority's urgency to outsource city services and lower costs for public projects, Mayor Eric Bever tasked Barlow with straightening the record on rumors and innuendo swirling around the issue.

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The charter cannot void employee pensions or current contracts. In its current form, voters would have to approve any increase to city worker pensions. The city would also not have to pay state-mandated prevailing wages for public works contracts funded solely with city money.

Unless it conflicts with the charter, Costa Mesa's municipal code remains in effect, Barlow said. The charter would keep the code that allows the city to enter into public works contracts without a formal bidding process if the contract is less than $175,000.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece raised concerns about oft-cited language in the charter's General Powers section that says the city has powers that aren't in the state constitution or specifically enumerated in the charter.

"At the end of the day I think the problem that residents have is how are these words going to be interpreted," she said. "They're vague — down the road someone may misconstrue them."

Barlow said the language was similar to the 10th Amendment, which leaves powers in the hands of the state and people that are not specifically enumerated for the federal government.

"Whatever power is out there that hasn't been taken up by the [state] constitution or taken up by a legislature to apply to all cities, we keep for ourselves," Barlow said. "Whatever they haven't taken away from us, belongs to us."

The council is scheduled to vote on a final version of the charter at its July 31 meeting. If approved, Costa Mesa residents will vote on the charter in November's general election.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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