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Costa Mesa will resume filming some council candidate forums

Costa Mesa will resume filming some council candidate forums
Costa Mesa City Council candidates are pictured at the 2016 Feet to the Fire forum at Orange Coast College. On Tuesday, council members voted to resume taping and broadcasting some candidate forums. (File photo)

Costa Mesa staff will resume taping and broadcasting some council candidate forums, returning to a long-running practice that was suspended a few years ago.

On a 3-2 vote Tuesday — with Councilman Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Allan Mansoor opposed — the council authorized staff to film up to four forums that can be broadcast on Costa Mesa's public-access channel, CMTV 3, and posted on the city's website.

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Which events are taped will be determined on a first-come, first-served basis. However, to be eligible, organizers must invite all the candidates running for council or mayor to attend.

Additionally, the forums will run in real time with no editing by staff.

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"I do think there's a certain illumination that occurs when you have these forums," said Councilman John Stephens. "The candidates get an opportunity to show their stuff; they get an opportunity to be exposed to the community and, by the same token, the community gets an opportunity to see who they're voting for."

Mayor Sandy Genis said she's "found the forums to be very valuable, both as a voter and as a candidate" and that the city taping such events "is a long-standing tradition that goes back decades in Costa Mesa."

"If we have resources to televise some of our school sports stuff, I think we probably have resources to do candidate forums," she said.

Righeimer, however, said the city shouldn't be involved in recording or publicizing candidate forums. Using public resources, he said, potentially exposes the city to liability from groups whose events aren't broadcast.

"We will be sued because a group's going to say, 'Excuse me, here's my video, you better play it,'" he said.

City staff previously recorded and broadcast council candidate forums, but suspended doing so during the 2014 election cycle following a recommendation from legal counsel.

The then-council majority voted to officially stop the practice in 2016.

CMTV taped three candidate forums in 2008, four in 2010 and five in 2012, according to a staff report. Three such events were held during the 2016 election cycle and were not recorded by the city — Feet to the Fire, one sponsored by the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors' Group and another put on by Mesa Verde Community Inc.

During Tuesday's meeting, some questioned whether the council should create standards to determine what groups are eligible to host forums — the worry being that outside or partisan groups could try to game the process.

Councilwoman Katrina Foley, however, said she doesn't anticipate that happening.

"These things are hard to put on," she said. "I don't see a whole bunch of groups coming down to City Hall."

Stephens said the council could always revisit the matter if issues arise.

Twitter @LukeMMoney

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