The Costa Mesa Charter Committee on Wednesday approved adding to the under-construction document language that aims to bring more transparency to labor negotiations.
The wording, prepared by the committee's legal counsel, would strengthen and further solidify the city's COIN ordinance, or Civic Openness in Negotiations, by placing it in the proposed city constitution — which is expected to go before voters in November.
The 13-member committee ultimately approved the addition on a 9-4 vote, with committee members Mary Ann O'Connell, Harold Weitzberg, Hank Panian and Tom Graham dissenting.
COIN requires that the city hire an independent negotiator as its representative — instead of using only executive city staff members — and conduct an independent fiscal analysis of each side's proposals, which would then be made public.
Supporters of the language said COIN sheds light on the otherwise closed-door negotiation process, which involves millions in taxpayer dollars. They say the public has a right to know how that money is being spent.
Committee member Lee Ramos said other cities, including Aliso Viejo, are considering adopting COIN.
Such an important provision, he said, should be solidified within Costa Mesa's charter. Otherwise, he added, "I'm afraid this ordinance is going to go away."
Dissenters said that while they agreed with the notion of transparency, COIN is probably too novel to go into the document at this time.
"This is so new," O'Connell said. "It really hasn't been tested."
Furthermore, they contend, it's already part of the municipal code, and putting it in the charter could be unnecessary.
"We don't know what the good parts or the bad parts of COIN may be," Weitzberg said. "We haven't tested what the law is."
COIN is in its trial run as the city negotiates with its municipal employee union, the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. The roughly 200-member group began negotiations in August. The workers' contract expired in March.
Panian said he's been on both sides of the negotiating aisle, as an employee benefiting from a contract and as a Mesa Water District board member working to reach a labor agreement.
"Labor negotiations are extremely flexible," Panian said. "The pathways to a decision are complicated and complex. It's not easy to have a meeting of the minds. Therefore, from my point of view, from a practical point of view, putting this in the charter would be too rigid and, in many respects, it could not be met because of the nature of the negotiations."
The committee next meets Feb. 26. Its facilitators, Kirk Bauermeister and Mike Decker, said they hope the group will finish drawing up the charter by March 12.
On March 18, the committee is tentatively scheduled to bring the charter before the City Council, which will have a final say on the document before it goes to voters.