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Commentary: If we pursue a charter, elect a commission to draft it

April 29, 2013|By Robin Leffler

Here we go again, but in the opinion of Costa Mesans for Responsible Government (CM4RG), we're getting off on the wrong foot again.

In 2012, when asked what he would do if his charter proposal failed at the polls, Mayor Jim Righeimer answered that he would bring it back right away. The charter failed spectacularly with 60% of the voters voting a resounding no.

And now the specter of a charter is back. CM4RG hoped that when it returned, the process would be as considerate and inclusive of the public as possible.

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However, the very first step put the public at a disadvantage. The city gave notice only five days before the charter study session, and scheduled it for 4:30 p.m., when working residents would have a very difficult time attending.

An attorney from the city's contract legal firm presented the staff report. The most surprising and disturbing information missing from the report and the study session were any specific, verified reasons why Costa Mesa needs a charter.

The first question in the staff report was "Should the city pursue becoming a charter city?" The question quickly appeared merely rhetorical; it was apparent the only option under consideration was "Yes, and as quickly as possible."

The answer to the unexplored question, "Why does Costa Mesa need a charter?" could have provided factual reasons to pursue this project, but no such reasons were revealed. Prior to the last election council candidate John Stephens asked the council this similar question "What is it that you want to do with a charter that is illegal to do now?"

This question also went unanswered.

Until answers to those questions are presented, and they offer compelling reasons for a charter, CM4RG is unlikely to support the pursuit of a charter.

The second question was, "Should the city use a charter committee or charter commission to draft the proposed charter?"

In answer the city's attorney gave only negative reasons why a commission elected by the voters would not work, such as, "It takes too long and it's old-fashioned," and she rejected the concept of an elected commission out of hand.

The decision about using an elected commission vs. an appointed committee is a policy matter for the City Council to decide in a public hearing, yet it was decided at the staff level, and at a study session. Council members went so far as to direct the staff to solicit applications for committee membership.

We were disappointed that the study session lacked depth and balance. As one resident remarked, "They didn't do much studying."

If the Costa Mesa City Council majority insists on pursuing a charter, then CM4RG would like an elected charter commission to write it. It would eliminate the ability for the council majority to create a biased committee and the end result would go directly to the voters, not to the council for revisions just prior to election time.

So far, the City Council has taken a wrong-footed approach, which makes CM4RG skeptical of this city charter effort, and at this time we cannot support the pursuit of a charter nor an appointed committee to draft one.

ROBIN LEFFLER is president of Costa Mesans for Responsible Government (CM4RG).

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