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Harlan: Process is king in city government

July 21, 2012|By Jeffrey Harlan

Recently, one Orange County community was grappling with a complex and thorny subject that touched on all aspects of civic life: public safety, health, parks and recreation, transportation, employment, housing, social equity and governance.

To examine and address this wide-ranging topic, the City Council wisely decided to form a committee consisting of local experts, residents, businesses, civic organizations and other community representatives.

This committee was charged with the task of establishing realistic strategies and making recommendations that addressed the community's needs. As well, the council directed the committee to develop its findings and recommendations within a reasonable period of time.

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With these marching orders, the committee selected a chair person, established a schedule, identified goals and key issues, and doled out assignments to its members. It examined best practices in other cities and identified the unique circumstances that challenged its community. The city manager allocated resources, including city staff, to support this high-priority effort. The committee held public meetings, city staff prepared agendas and minutes, and the local media reported periodically on the committee's progress.

After 12 months, the committee prepared a final report with a suite of recommendations and presented it to the council for review and consideration. Because the effort included representatives from a wide cross section of the community, the recommendations reflected different perspectives on how to best tackle this comprehensive challenge.

Despite these disparate viewpoints, the committee worked together to deliver reasonable and workable solutions. The result was a mixture of incentives, policies and regulatory actions, each of which the council approved.

More importantly, after months of working together, the committee was able to develop the trust, respect and cooperation among its members that would be necessary to help implement their plan. Creating this kind of consensus also led to increased investment by community members.

The community, of course, is Costa Mesa; and the committee was the Homeless Task Force.

Clearly, our council knows that dealing with major, citywide issues through a committee-based process — one that reflects the diversity of an 110,000-resident urban city — is effective.

It's puzzling, then, that they would reject a similar process for something as important as a new city charter.

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