Harlan: More questions about charter arise

September 22, 2012|By Jeffrey Harlan

Costa Mesa City Councilman Gary Monahan's latest campaign pitch for Measure V ("Charter frees Costa Mesa from the state," Sept. 19) is much like the proposed charter document — vague, long on platitudes and short on specific substance.

Let's start with Monahan's central argument: Costa Mesa is somehow under the merciless thumb of Sacramento, and we need to "break free" to recapture local control. Monahan boasts that he knows of several state laws that "impose costly mandates on our city, dictate how we spend our tax dollars or tell us how we must conduct our business."

OK, councilman, please name a few. Or even just one.

And please explain how on earth the other 361 California cities without a charter (75% of the state's municipalities) manage to operate at all under the heavy hand of Sacramento?


But for argument's sake, let's accept Monahan's specious premise. The councilman contends that to guard against Sacramento power grabs, charter cities have constitutions "that are specifically tailored to address and protect local needs."

When exactly did this tailoring process occur in Costa Mesa? The proposed charter scheme's author, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, basically cherry-picked bits and pieces of other charters and assembled a document that he deems appropriate for our community.

Monahan goes on to assert that the proposed charter will provide "greater flexibility over local affairs while providing opportunity for significant taxpayer savings." As an example, he claims the charter would implement fair and open competition for the city's potential public works projects, and protect both union and non-union workers.

Is he suggesting that our current public bidding system is unfair? Is this the injustice the council union is really trying to remedy with this charter?

As for significant taxpayer savings, Monahan points to the prevailing-wage exemption as the critical tool to reduce expenditures on public projects. In concept this sounds appealing, but in practice such an exemption does not always yield promised savings.

Just ask the residents of Oceanside how their charter's prevailing wage exemption delivered a half-constructed harbor aquatics center by a contractor who was financially unable to perform the work and meet its contractual obligations. Ultimately, the delayed project was taken over by a surety company, and the city was forced to reduce the project's scope by $1.4 million.

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