Costa Mesa City Council meetings now averaging two hours longer

COSTA MESA — Two hours more of memorandums of understanding, two hours more of request for proposals, two hours more of public governance.

When averaging Costa Mesa's regularly scheduled biweekly City Council meetings with the current council, meetings now last an average of 4.5 hours — more than two hours longer than under the previous council.

"Everybody gets to be heard on every issue," said Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who was elected into office last November. "You know if you go to a Costa Mesa council meeting you'll get to air out your issue."

And boy, do residents and council members air out their issues.

Whether it's combing through warrant reports in the agenda — a listing of checks Costa Mesa writes for various services — or cherry-picking items out of the consent calendar section that's meant for routine items, seemingly no stone has gone unturned in 2011.

In the longest meeting this year — a seven-hour marathon Sept. 6 — the council and public debated on the city tapping outside law firms to help the city outsource jobs and defend itself in a lawsuit from city employees.

In August, residents debated with council members for more than an hour and a half over whether to give the local Pop Warner league up to $10,000 it was promised years earlier.

This week, the council took more than 30 minutes to debate whether to allow an environmental group to add native plants in a portion of Fairview Park for free.

Some of it clearly comes from increased vigilance by residents. Council meeting regulars routinely get up to speak on multiple issues each meeting, with each speaker allotted three minutes to talk.

At other times, it's a council member zeroing in on something personally important to him or her, such as Mayor Gary Monahan's attempt to have the city publicly take a stance against amalgam dental fillings.

That was a 40-minute discussion.

"I knew they felt longer," said Councilwoman Wendy Leece, who was on the dais last year when meetings averaged about 2.5 hours. "It just seems to me there's so many important issues on each agenda. That's what the difference is."

"I remember being at school board meetings until three in the morning, when the county went bankrupt," Leece continued. "So that was sort of training for this. These meetings aren't as long. I'm not complaining."

With the plans to outsource city jobs still in the works, a mid-year budget review coming in the next couple of months and elections next November, it looks like residents can expect to watch their local government work deep into the night, twice a month, for the foreseeable future.

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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