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Smith: Costa Mesa mayor appears uninterested in community feedback

July 24, 2012|By Steve Smith

Costa Mesa Mayor Eric Bever uttering an expletive that was caught by his open microphone should come as no surprise to anyone who attended last week's council meeting.

He also threatened to go home in frustration — another unsurprising comment and an act that would have pleased an increasing number of residents.

The real surprise is that it took Bever so long to reach the boiling point.

For months, Bever often limits his input and comments to less time than the remarks by some of the city's gadflies.

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Bever is not the only council member to have hit the wall; he's just the first one to be so vocal about it.

When we hear council members attempting to stifle public input by limiting the number of speakers or trying to manipulate public comments by limiting the length of each, when agendas are adjusted in clear attempts to reduce public reactions, and when we see council members on the dais doing things other than paying attention to the current speaker, we know frustration when we see it.

Bever's outburst should serve as a lesson to the nine candidates who are running for three open spots on the council: If you believe you are immune to similar behavior and will always conduct yourself with more decorum, think again. A seat on the council today is not what it was, say, 10 years ago.

If you are elected, please don't ever complain publicly about the length or number of public comments. Public comments are democracy in action, a chance for citizens to tell you directly what they think, and if you aren't willing to withstand the criticism for at least four years — all of it by any number of speakers — drop out of the race now.

If you are elected, you give up the right to limit public input. You are hereby served with notice that on some occasions, there may be a long line of people waiting to weigh in on a certain issue.

So deal with it by showing them the respect they deserve. If you don't know if you can do that twice a month for four years, quit the race now.

Here, though, I do take the side of those council members who over the years have asked speakers to avoid repeating the arguments or opinions of speakers before them.

Fellow Costa Mesa residents, there is a three-minute speaker limit. It is a limit, not a requirement, and if your point has already been made, simply get up, say what you support or do not support, and then sit down.

And candidates: Absolutely, positively, don't ever complain about the amount of time you are putting in as a member of the council.

The current council is no place for the weak. Gone are the days when we could look forward to bon mots from former Mayor Peter Buffa or when we could count on Joe Erickson setting the gentlemanly tone of each meeting with calming influence. Back then, though, there was no recession and decision-making was a lot easier — everyone was a hero.

Bever appears burnt out, and it's good for him and good for the city that he will not be back on the dais after this term.

But let this be a warning to all candidates: The council is a very hot kitchen and if you don't do well in the heat, get out now.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to smi161@aol.com.

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