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Police union, mayor may split cost of airing Costa Mesa candidates forum

Two of Costa Mesa’s fiercest political opponents could join forces in paying to broadcast a City Council candidates’ debate after the city of Costa Mesa declined to televise the event in an attempt to remain politically neutral.

The Costa Mesa Police Assn., which represents sworn officers in the city Police Department, and Mayor Jim Righeimer each offered to chip in half the cost to have the Oct. 2 Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors’ Group forum recorded and broadcast on the city’s public-access TV channel.

Last month, members of the Eastside group cried foul when the city decided it wouldn’t air the event on CMTV.

One of Costa Mesa’s attorneys advised the city not to use public resources in televising private debates. The opinion also noted that if the city were to broadcast one forum, it would be difficult to turn down requests to air more.

Based on that, Costa Mesa officials declined to broadcast the Eastside debate. However, they said they would follow through on commitments they already made to record the Sept. 18 Feet to the Fire Forum — which the Daily Pilot sponsors with Voice of OC and the Orange County Register — and Mesa Verde Community Inc.'s Aug. 21 forum.

After the city’s decision, Righeimer offered to pay half the cost of airing the debate on CMTV or elsewhere and challenged his fellow candidates to pony up the rest of the money.

On Wednesday, the police association contacted city Chief Executive Tom Hatch and offered to pay the other half — or all — of the costs related to recording and airing the forum.

“Our board felt it is important to make sure that the entire breadth of the community is properly informed and represented by these forums,” CMPA President Rob Dimel said. “It seems inappropriate for the city to take on two-thirds of the task but not complete it.”

City spokesman Bill Lobdell said Friday that the CMPA’s offer has not changed the city’s stance.

Righeimer said he hadn’t known about the union’s offer but added that it didn’t change his commitment. “I was looking for the other candidates to pay, but if it’s them that’s fine,” he said.

Righeimer and the CMPA have been bitter political opponents. The union campaigned against Righeimer in the 2010 council election, but he won and spearheaded a plan to reduce pension costs and cut staff at the Police Department.

The union and the mayor now are locked in a lawsuit, with Righeimer alleging that the association was part of a plot to harass and intimidate him. The association argues that the litigation is an attempt to muzzle its political dissent.

Righeimer said he thinks it’s unlikely the Eastside debate will air on CMTV, and he agrees with the city’s attempt to remain neutral. But he said he would be happy if it happens. “To me, I’m better off being on TV and being out there,” he said.

The mayor and some of his political supporters have accused the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors’ Group of posing slanted questions during a 2012 debate, but Denise Moon, the group’s neighbors director, previously defended the forum as a politics-free event that simply lets candidates speak their minds.

The logistics of any plan to air the Oct. 2 debate would have to be worked out.

“The CMPA has come up with some great ideas to get the taping done,” Dimel wrote to Hatch. “However, we would like to see a commitment from you that the recording of the event will be aired in a timely fashion so that the effort won’t be for naught.”

Dimel said he has reached out to Orange Coast College to see if media students there could produce the broadcast in case the city objects to having its employees involved.

“However, I think that to be equitable with the other forums, the finished products should be aired on CMTV,” Dimel said.


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