Forum focuses on charter, outsourcing

Shading in the outlines of broad ideological arguments, the seven candidates for Costa Mesa City Council laid out two opposing platforms Wednesday night.

They spoke at a forum hosted by the residents group Mesa Verde Community Inc., in front of about 250 people at the Costa Mesa Community Center.

Three candidates support the current council majority's moves to reshape local government, while three oppose its tactics. The remaining candidate straddles both sides.

This election is a pivotal one for Costa Mesa, as three of five council seats are up for grabs and residents will choose whether the city converts to a charter form of government. The current four-council majority has pushed a conservative platform that includes privatizing some city services and hard-line bargaining tactics with public employee associations.

Planning Commissioner Colin McCarthy, Councilman Gary Monahan and Councilman Steve Mensinger praised the current council's actions, and said that the proposed charter would free up local officials from state restrictions.

"I think the charter gives us the ability to outsource," Mensinger said.

Business attorney John Stephens, businessman Harold Weitzberg and former mayor Sandy Genis said they were concerned that the charter would give the council too much leeway in setting contracting rules and would weaken limits on no-bid contracts.

"That all goes by the wayside and you're trusting three votes on the council," Genis said.

Dubbed the 3Ms, McCarthy, Monahan and Mensinger have not officially joined as a slate, but they share a similar conservative vision: a smaller government payroll and a charter form of government.

Genis, Weitzberg and Stephens have the backing of the grass roots citizens group, Costa Mesans for Responsible Government. All oppose the council majority's push to restructure city government.

Retired CPA Al Melone, the seventh candidate, isn't aligned with either side, but says he supports outsourcing and the city's proposed charter. At the forum Wednesday he said his main goal was to float a referendum on the city's fireworks laws.

The CM4RG candidates appeared more prepared and answered questions more succinctly than the 3Ms, who seemed to speak off the cuff. The applause was about evenly distributed between the majority's supporters and its opponents.

Mensinger and McCarthy referred to the latest imbroglio with Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who was given a field sobriety test by Costa Mesa police last week. A private investigator, associated a law firm that represented several police associations including the Newport Beach Police Management Association, called 911 to report Righeimer, who passed the test and said he only drank Diet Coke that night. Mensinger and McCarthy said Wednesday it was an example of public employee associations using intimidating tactics.

The most pressing issue, though, was the charter. Voters will be able to decide if the city converts to a charter form of government. Today, it operates as a general law city, following the same basic procedures as about two-thirds of California cities. The proposed city charter will be on the general election ballot listed as Measure V.

Essentially a city constitution, the charter would allow Costa Mesa to develop its own contracting procedures. This has immediate political implications, as Righeimer drafted the document to allow more flexibility in outsourcing city services.

Partially because of the general law limitations, the City Council majority has been stymied in its attempt to privatize some services and potentially save the city money. A court injunction is also blocking outsourcing.

mike.reicher@latimes.com

Twitter: @mreicher

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