Commentary: City's situation echoes that of 1787

I have read the April 17 Daily Pilot article, "Mayor asks blogger to apologize for Hitler reference," which described an incident in which Mayor Jim Righeimer was likened to a tyrant. I also have read blogger Geoff West's April 24 commentary "I will not apologize for likening mayor to a dictator."

As I read these papers, I was reminded that 227 years ago the people of this country were warned about a problem with similar consequences and which plagues Costa Mesa today through the decisions and actions of the mayor and City Council majority. The problem is majority factions in government.

The warning came as part of the debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists over the ratification of the United States Constitution. Specifically, the warning about majority factions came in James Madison's Federalist essay No. 10 published in 1787.

Even though Madison's arguments were addressing the federal government, they have some remarkable pertinence to city governments, particularly Costa Mesa's.

In "Federalist No. 10," Madison describes a faction as any minority or majority group of citizens that pursues ends that are adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community. A majority faction is the real threat because a minority faction can be blocked by a majority vote.

Interestingly, according to The Federalist edited with an introduction by constitutional historian Jack N. Rakove, Madison is also challenging a fundamental government principle. Because a majority may be a faction, Madison is challenging the principle that the majority in such governments are the safest guardians of public good and private rights.

Just think about how many times the majority vote on key issues at Costa Mesa City Council meetings has been the same three majority faction members against the other two council members and, I might add, clearly against the public good desired and expressed by many residents of Costa Mesa.

The clearest example is the past and present unpopular proposed city charters. However, the decisions on changing the public comments procedure and the one on the secretive structure of the Preserve Our Neighborhoods Task Force also seem to have majority faction overtones.

A possible remedy for Costa Mesans is to increase the number of the council members, which could reduce the probability of a majority faction forming. A second possible remedy is to do a much better job of selecting our City Council members.

Increasing the size of the council is not likely to occur anytime soon, so we need to focus on Option 2.

As a result, in the November election I will not vote for any council candidate who will continue the current majority faction. I will support and vote for candidates who will listen to Costa Mesa residents, do their own thinking and make the best interest of Costa Mesans their highest priority.

CHARLES MOONEY lives in Costa Mesa.

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