Commentary: Stop the charter city madness

Just a few months ago, Costa Mesa held a charter election that cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. After hearing all the arguments, voters rejected a risky move to change our fundamental form of government.

Although a resounding 60% of voters said no to the proposal in November, the City Council majority once again moved to put a charter on the ballot in 2014. This time, the same council majority handpicked the vast majority of the charter committee members. Taxpayers will pay even more because of staff time, a $14,000 bill for two "facilitators," committee meetings and the cost of placing the measure on the ballot.

Hidden dangers abound when politicians control the process for writing a city's constitution. That is why I opposed Measure V last year and why I opposed the recent biased charter committee process.

Turning Costa Mesa into a charter city would take away the protections of state law, such as the prohibition against gifts of public funds.

In Vernon, Bell, Compton and San Bernardino, overspending and financial mismanagement have left those charter city governments in ruin.

A recent grand jury report in Los Angeles County analyzed the finances of charter cities compared with general law cities like ours. The grand jury reported that by and large charter cities carried deeper debts and were on worse financial footing. Of the 22 charter cities studied, only five had balanced budgets in the 2009-10 fiscal year.

Last October, Moody's Investor Service, which ranks creditworthiness, named 30 California cities that are in "fiscal trouble."

Guess which city is not on that list? Costa Mesa.

Guess how many of those 30 cities are governed under charter law? Twenty-five.

Why would we want to add Costa Mesa to the list?

Charter cities can also eliminate the use of the state's Public Contract Code, which targets favoritism, fraud and corruption. Measure V attempted to replace that standard by giving three members of the City Council unlimited authority to allow for no-bid contracts.

Taxpayers could easily see spending get out of control if a new charter does not specify spending limits, future City Councils set these standards by resolution only (and shut out the public in the process), or rules guarantee contracts for insiders.

While Costa Mesa is still in the midst of economic recovery, let's not waste our tax money on something voters overwhelmingly rejected seven months ago. Our current form of government has served us well through the decades. Now is not the time to destroy the stability it has provided.

Please join me in reminding the council majority that we already voted against a charter, we see right through this charter committee charade and we don't trust the majority with more power than they already have. Stop this wasteful exercise and start looking out for all of the residents of Costa Mesa!

MIKE HARMANOS lives in Costa Mesa.

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