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Group Forms to Watch Mission Viejo Officials

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The city may have a harmonious City Council for the first time in its nine-year history, but that doesn’t mean the citizenry is keeping quiet.

Armed with a long list of grievances against City Hall that include the city’s $6-million proposal to build a baseball stadium, a government watchdog group is forming in Mission Viejo.

They contend that in this new era of council comradeship, city officials are arrogantly pushing through large projects without finding out what citizens want.

“Politicians get too caught up in building city halls and other tributes to their reign on the council,” said Brad Morton, one of two residents heading up the organization of the Committee for Integrity in Government. “They rush out and do these things without taking into account public opinion.”

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Morton said the group will hold an organizational meeting in the next two weeks. Co-founder Milt Jacobsen said about 15 residents have returned forms indicating they are interested in becoming members.

The watchdog group plans to monitor public meetings and make sure that residents are fully informed about how they are affected by issues before the council.

Jacobsen has been on the city Senior Committee for several years. Morton ran unsuccessfully for a council seat last November. The two met at a City Council meeting and discovered they had common gripes with City Hall that boiled down to unresponsive city officials.

Jacobsen was incensed because the city had tabled a proposal for term limits. Morton was concerned because residents weren’t surveyed to see if they support paying up to $15 million, including interest payments, for the ball field. City officials, however, dispute Morton’s estimate.

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“It’s not so much the issues themselves, but the process, the lack of public input,” said Morton. “The other side doesn’t learn what’s happening until they get hit with the freight train.”

City officials disagree. They point out that agendas are posted for all meetings.

“We televise the meetings and post the agendas,” Councilwoman Susan Withrow said. “It isn’t cost effective to send agendas to 30,000 households for every meeting.”

Withrow said there wasn’t time to accurately poll residents on the proposed baseball stadium. The city was trying to woo the Long Beach Riptide, now the Mission Viejo Vigilantes, and the team needed an answer quickly so they could decide whether to renew their lease with Long Beach.

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“In an ideal world, we could poll the citizens,” said Withrow. “But frankly, we have to deal with these issues as they come to us. I think for the most part, we’ve really gone to great lengths to engage citizens to participate.”

She added that Morton is positioning himself for another council run, a contention that the Mission Viejo attorney denies.

This is the first government watchdog group in Mission Viejo since 1992, when a grass-roots movement that objected to plans to build a new city hall succeeded in putting the project before voters--who soundly turned it down.

The watchdog group is forming as Mission Viejo sheds its old image as a place where council members constantly bickered among themselves from the city’s inception in 1988.

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With new members elected into office, Mission Viejo finally got a council that began to get along in 1995.

“Harmony is good in that you can get things done,” Morton said. “But on the other side of the coin, half of the debate is left out.”


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