The Costa Mesa City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved Mayor Steve Mensinger’s proposed changes to its meeting structure, permitting more public speakers at the beginning of sessions than had been allowed.
Members of the public will now be allowed to comment on non-agenda items from about 6 to 6:40 p.m., allowing as many as 15 speakers — if kept to three minutes each.
Under the previous system implemented by Jim Righeimer during his tenure as mayor, 10 audience members were chosen at random to speak at the beginning of meetings, with others having to wait until the end, often several hours later.
Mensinger’s changes also move the meeting start time up by 15 minutes to 5:45 p.m.
Mensinger said his purpose was to get the “business of the people” started by 7 p.m.
The council was more divided on the mayor’s proposal to restrict the council’s own general comment portion to three minutes, the same time given to public speakers on non-agenda items. The body ended up keeping the time unlimited but with the aim of trying to keep the remarks under three minutes.
Councilwoman Katrina Foley said codifying the requirement would have been too restrictive and should be more of a “handshake deal.”
“If you put it in a resolution, it’s suddenly a rule that can be used against someone,” she said.
Councilman Gary Monahan, a former mayor, stressed that the meeting style should be the prerogative of the mayor, whomever it may be.
“I’ve always said the mayor needs to run the meeting the best way he feels,” Monahan said.
Nearly a dozen City Hall regulars expressed concern about Mensinger’s proposals, particularly a provision that would continue to require people to turn in their cards requesting time to address the council before the first speaker is called.
Such an early deadline, they contended, makes it difficult for people who commute to get to City Hall on time.
That provision was ultimately denied, building in a new flexibility that allows people to decide to speak anytime within the roughly 40-minute window.
Eastside resident Beth Refakes said public comments should be considered “the people’s business,” not just decisions that affect business owners or developers.
“We are residents,” Refakes said. “We pay taxes.”