Taxpayers Assn. charter discussion full of anti-union talk

COSTA MESA — At the Costa Mesa Taxpayers Assn. meeting meant to inform the public about a proposed city charter, audience members also got an earful of anti-union rhetoric.

Nearly 100 audience members gathered at the Neighborhood Community Center on Thursday to learn about the charter, essentially a city constitution that would, if approved by voters, allow the city to make more of its own laws rather than rely on a state-provided template.

"The elected officials are the ones who created the problem," Councilman Steve Mensinger said in describing the city's rising pension costs.

Having a charter "means sovereignty. It means you make your own decisions," he said.

Mensinger was joined by charter proponent Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Oceanside Councilman Jerome Kern, who successfully fought off a recall effort there while his city adopted a charter.

"Pass it as quickly as possible to get out from under that prevailing wage," Kern told the audience.

A current version of the city's charter frees the city from having to pay prevailing wages — a term used for average wages paid to specialists in a given field, such as pipe-fitting — for public projects funded wholly by city dollars. As a general law city, Costa Mesa operates under the state's constitution, which requires prevailing wages, a standard also favored by trade unions.

Prevailing wage opponents say they eliminate cities from awarding contracts to the lowest responsible bidder, which escalates the costs of projects.

The panel also explained that, under a charter, Costa Mesa would still have to abide by the current contracts it has and still has to pay toward its current employees' pensions. Also, council meetings would remain subject to state open-meetings laws.

Another piece of the charter would separate employees' political donations from their union dues.

Political influence by unions was a major theme of the night.

Newport-Mesa Unified school board member Katrina Foley, who was in the audience, asked Righeimer if he was so against unions' role in politics, would he support public financing for elections instead?

"No, absolutely not," he said.

Righeimer emphasized that the city could outsource many services currently performed in-house.

City CEO Tom Hatch, who opened up the discussion, said the city still has more belt-tightening to do staffwise.

"This was very informative," said Shirley Zilkow, a longtime Costa Mesa resident. "When we can run our city on the local level, that's very advantageous. It's more individual. In Sacramento, you don't have a choice."

Foley, a former City Council member, said she was undecided on the charter, but didn't agree with how the city is going about proposing it, or how Thursday's discussion took place.

"It wasn't a fully developed panel," she said. "It didn't present both sides of the issue to let the people get all the information."

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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