Costa Mesa cancels meeting on charter over inadequate notice

Costa Mesa spokesman Bill Lobdell announced late Tuesday afternoon the cancellation of the evening's special City Council meeting, where the members were expected to vote on spending for a special election in June on the city charter initiative.

Citing inadequate notification to the public, Lobdell said official documentation for the meeting did not properly state its scheduled time; rather, it only indicated that the meeting would "begin immediately following the regular adjourned meeting/study session in the City Council chambers."

According to state code — which Costa Mesa is subject to — special meetings may be called at any time, but must adhere to a long list of standards, including a clear statement of a specific time and place.

Lobdell also said that because of the litigious nature of the proposed June 5 special election, cancelling the meeting was in the best interest of the council and the city. The election would have required voters to sign in twice and vote on separate ballots: one for the primary, the other for the charter.

Lobdell said he does not foresee such a special election happening in June.

Proponents of the special election, which would have cost the city more than $150,000, said that it would have allowed the public to vote sooner for a city charter. They claim having the charter — essentially a city constitution — would allow Costa Mesa to start saving money immediately by working with a set of laws tailored to the city's needs.

According to a staff report prepared for council, however, the special election would have cost nearly $60,000 more than waiting until the November general election. In addition, costs estimated by the Orange County Registrar of Voters were still unknown.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, a supporter of the charter initiative, noted that the legal representation of the charter's opposition — namely labor unions, including Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. — were carefully watching the council's conduct and decisions because they don't want the charter issue to reach the polls.

"We're under a microscope," Righeimer said after hearing of the special meeting's cancellation.

The City Council still conducted its regularly scheduled study session Tuesday afternoon, where council members voiced their thoughts on the subject.

"For whatever reason, someone didn't send something in," Righeimer said during the study session, referencing City Clerk Julie Folcik's missing of the county registrar's filing date to get the city charter initiative on the June primary ballot. She has since placed on paid administrative leave, pending an investigation.

Righeimer added that exposing the city to further costs wouldn't be worthwhile when "the fact of the matter is, [the charter initiative is] going to pass in November anyway ... "

Councilwoman Wendy Leece, who has spoken out against what she feels has been unnecessary spending on litigation for the charter initiative, said she was surprised to hear the special meeting was cancelled. During the study session, she observed the mood of the charter measure, as well as the larger issue of Cost Mesa's efforts to outsource city services on the pretense of long-term cost savings.

"I think in talking to and listening to people in Costa Mesa," she said, "it's the mean-spiritedness, the vitriol, the anger that's aimed at public employees in general, as if they're somehow to blame for a city's budget problem — that's the problem."

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