City charter discussion gets heated

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The Costa Mesa City Council hastily retreated behind closed doors Tuesday night after abruptly calling a recess when a charter proponent spoke far longer than the three minutes afforded to everyone else and egged on hundreds in the crowd who were trying to shout him down.

“This is fascism!” Kevin Dayton shouted back at the attendees, who were mostly organized labor workers and residents. By that time, they had created an unintelligible chorus of hisses and shouts at Dayton, a Sacramento native.

Leading up to Dayton’s turn to speak, audience members were given the standard three minutes to voice their opinions. The majority urged the council to slow down the process to possibly adopt a city charter, which is essentially a city constitution.


But when Dayton went to the podium, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer said Dayton had contacted him earlier in the week and requested additional minutes for a presentation.

Dayton introduced himself as from the Dayton Public Policy Institute, an organization without a website that he said he started “at the beginning of the month.”

He is also the director for ABC Government Affairs in California, state lobbying arm of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., a national construction association founded in Maryland in the 1950s to counter local unions.

For nearly 10 minutes, Dayton lavished praise on Righeimer and the city charter initiative without interruption. As he went on, the crowd grew restless. The four uniformed police officers in attendance — an amount more than at most meetings — started moving along the aisles, their presence clear to the increasingly hostile crowd.

Righeimer said Dayton requested to make a presentation and that after that, he planned to allow a union representative to offer a counterpoint.

At one point, Dayton’s comments seemed to be wrapping up when he finished speaking about the benefits of a charter. When he started up again, this time on his personal feelings about the charter, the crowd had had enough.

Seemingly all at once, the grumbles turned into full-on shouting, with people yelling “Three minutes!” and “His time is up!” and “Follow the rules!”

Dayton turned back, made his fascism remark and the council went to a sudden recess.

Dayton wasn’t done, however. As the council walked out behind him, the charter proponent stood in the center aisle and spread his two arms wide, egging the crowd on.

“Go home!” one audience member shouted.

“See you in the parking lot!” another yelled.

Tempers soon cooled and the meeting continued, with any speaker who requested it getting more than three minutes. The majority urged the council to delay putting the proposed charter on June’s primary ballot and instead wait until November, if it did not scrap the document altogether and restart with a citizen-created version.

Others like Phil Morello, a Costa Mesa resident, spoke in favor. He said the document will give the council more control over local affairs.

Tuesday’s meeting was the public’s last chance to make suggestions to the charter before its goes to the council for final approval in March.

Most of the public’s and Councilwoman Wendy Leece’s suggestions didn’t make it into the proposed final version. Though a few spoke in favor, most attendees urged the council to remove a provision that leaves the door open for the city to do public projects without state-set prevailing wages for project workers.

Leece’s motion to change that provision, as well as add a requirement that council members reveal ex-parte communications ahead of contract negotiations failed. A resident’s request to mandate the city have seven council members and divide them into city districts — mirroring Newport Beach’s model — also went nowhere.

An updated version of the proposed charter should be available by the end of the week, city officials said.

Twitter: @josephserna