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Harlan: Why Costa Mesa should reject the city charter

October 06, 2012|By Jeffrey Harlan

Over the past few months there has been much talk about approving or rejecting the proposed Costa Mesa charter, often described as a constitution for our community's governance. I invite you, my fellow Costa Mesa residents, to think of the charter in a different context.

At its core, a charter serves as a contract between the government and the community. In addition to identifying the need for a charter, the document should define terms, detail procedures, and establish roles and responsibilities. Here, our City Council union is proposing an agreement that significantly reshapes the relationship between Costa Mesans and our elected officials. Such a proposition is not without its risks.

When evaluating a contract to determine whether it is a worthwhile risk, I focus on three factors: the process in creating the agreement, the specific language in the document, and the nature of the relationship between the parties.

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Typically, parties develop an agreement by engaging in a dialogue to ensure that the final product serves their mutual interests. Ultimately, the contract must represent a meeting of the minds between the parties. Each party had an equal say in forming the contract, and everyone understands their respective expectations and obligations.

In the case of the proposed charter scheme, what kind of dialogue occurred between the council and our community members? How much input have we really had in crafting this document? Were the legally required public hearings real forums for meaningful discussion and debate, or just perfunctory exercises in futility?

Here, the council union, led by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, engaged in a hasty, unilateral process. There was no good-faith negotiation, no earnest consultation, no open-minded conversation between the council union and the community. Today's document is, substantively, the same one that was rushed to the ballot in June.

Instead of fostering a healthy exchange of ideas, the council union's process created a narrowly focused and ideologically driven charter.

And as we all know with contracts, the devil is in the details. Agreements such as this, which deviate from standard practice and affect all Costa Mesans, need to contain clear language that all parties understand.

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