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Commentary: Council is steering Costa Mesa away from ruin

July 28, 2012|By Steve Mensinger

In his weekly column that bashes the Costa Mesa City Council ("Process is king in city government," July 21), Jeffrey Harlan attempts to make the case that those of us on the dais don't follow the traditional governmental process to which Costa Mesa is accustomed.

Guilty, I suppose.

Using the traditional governmental process, past councils approved unsustainable public employee pension packages that put Costa Mesa on the road to financial ruin and threatened the very pension plans they approved (bankrupt Stockton just cut retirees' health benefits; the city could no longer afford them). By the way, not the fault of the employees.

Using the traditional governmental process, past councils neglected Costa Mesa's infrastructure needs to feed the public employee pension beast they created.

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Using the traditional governmental process, past councils burned through more than $30 million in reserves because they refused to properly right-size City Hall given current economic realities. This includes cutting budgets for parks, fertilizer, even cleaning windows.

Using the traditional governmental process, past council policies have led to more than $250 million in unfunded pension and retiree health benefits.

So yes, this Costa Mesa council has been different. We have put residents first.

While sticking to the best governmental processes, the council:

• Passed the first two balanced budgets (without the use of reserves) in recent memory

• Hired and promoted seven new executive-level leaders, remarkable for the fact that they live in the city they manage

• Poured more than $20 million in infrastructure for the 2012-13 fiscal year alone.

• Has taken a stand against the unsustainable demands of public employee unions, bringing sanity back to the city's fiscal policies

• Explored the viability of outsourcing various city services, identifying millions of dollars in annual savings by both privatizing services and delivering in-house services more effectively

• Has made Costa Mesa one of the most transparent cities in the county and nation, according to the Orange County Register, Orange County Grand Jury and the national Sunshine Review

• Has developed a charter that, if put on the ballot and passed by the voters in November, would take back local control from Sacramento politicians (the current charter was developed after seven months of public input and literally hundreds of suggestions by Costa Mesa residents)

Far from perfect, the governmental process can produce two very different results: status quo, which has put hardworking residents in the position of funding incredible compensation and pension packages while leaving little leftover for what city government should be doing; or the alternative, which is delivering services, improving infrastructure and putting residents first.

STEVE MENSINGER is a Costa Mesa city councilman. He is running in the November election to keep his seat.

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