Costa Mesa Charter Committee sets up house

At its first meeting Wednesday evening, the 13-member Costa Mesa Charter Committee got something of a civic governance crash course, then discussed the ways it hoped to move forward.

Legal counsel for the committee, Kimberly Hall Barlow, explained the history of municipal charters and what they entail, and also ran down some of the finer points of California's open-meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act.

At the three-hour meeting in the city's Emergency Operations Center, committee members bandied ideas for how they planned to tackle the potentially thorny topic of a Costa Mesa City Charter.

In November, voters rejected a proposed charter in the city's Measure V after a hard-fought and divisive campaign.

While much of the meeting centered on procedural issues, there was some brief debate over the committee's core mission: Should the group work assuming that its aim is to create a charter, or should it first be decided whether or not the city needs one?

Currently, Costa Mesa operates as a general law city. City officials have argued that a charter, essentially a city constitution, would make for more localized control.

Estancia High School Principal Kirk Bauermeister, who is serving along with Palm Harvest Church senior pastor and volunteer police Chaplain Mike Decker, as a paid facilitator told the group it had "been commissioned by the City Council to create a charter. Your job is to come up with the best charter possible."

Then, if committee members are opposed to Costa Mesa having a charter, they would be free to "certainly not vote for it."

But committee member Harold Weitzberg said that he didn't think that was correct.

"It would seem to me that this committee needs to decide whether or not we need a charter," said the former council candidate.

He added that then, if upon reviewing the city's needs, a charter would solve problems, the committee would be tasked with working from there.

Bauermeister said he would look into it.

The group also agreed on its operating norms — values all members of the group agreed to adhere to, no matter how heated debates may become. Those included the stewardship of public interest, respecting each other when opinions are expressed, listening actively to all ideas and staying on point.

The members were selected through council member appointment, a majority nomination process or a random drawing of council member-chosen applicants.

The committee will meet again July 10.

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