Charter Committee fine-tunes language

As of now, Costa Mesa's proposed city charter does not have language clarifying how the City Council can personally interact with city staffers over administrative affairs.

The decision to leave it out came after a 5-4 vote Wednesday night by the Charter Committee, with five members — Mary Ann O'Connell, Hank Panian, Tom Pollitt, Lee Ramos and Harold Weitzberg — opining that the city's existing municipal code about such matters is sufficient.

The municipal code dictates that council members must deal with the city's administrative services only through the city CEO, "except for the purpose of inquiry." That section of the code, officially titled "Interference by council in administrative affairs" and last revised in 2002, also states that the council shall not give orders to the city CEO's subordinates, according to committee documents.

Committee members Kevin Tobin, Tom Graham, Bill Fancher and Gene Hutchins dissented, instead favoring adding language on the topic to the charter. Such language, they contended, would enhance the "firewall" between the council and staff.

Weitzberg questioned the need.

"What's broken here that we're fixing in this?" he said. "My concern is putting something in the charter that presently exists."

O'Connell spoke of the need for consequences should council members interfere too much in day-to-day city affairs.

"If you don't know what your risk is, you're going to take the risk every time," she said.

Group moderator Kirk Bauermeister, who is not a voting member, advised that the group may want to reconsider its decision when more members of the committee are present. Ron Amburgey, Brett Eckles, Kerry McCarthy and Andrew Smith were absent.

"My struggle with this is there are four people not here," he said.


Council compensation

The committee also debated the compensation of council members, who receive $904.40 a month and can opt in for a benefits package that includes healthcare and life insurance.

They also receive a pension through the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) or may enroll in the Public Agency Retirement Services (PARS).

The group agreed on the council's salaries for what's considered a part-time job. Several members, however, said they felt uneasy with the council receiving a pension — which is vested after five years — and health benefits.

"This is not supposed to be full-time work they're doing," O'Connell said. "There are other recourses these days to get affordable healthcare."

Hutchins, who also serves on the city's Pension Oversight Committee, called the council's pensions "kind of overkill."

Panian, an elected board member for the Mesa Water District from 1977 to 1998, noted that the board there voted itself out of the pension system. He said he was OK with the council having health benefits, however.

"I would like our City Council people to be in good health while in service," he said. "I think that affects their decision making."

Pollitt asked about the possibility of a 401k-style retirement plan being implemented instead of a pension.

The committee's legal counsel, Kimberly Hall Barlow, said she will present by the next committee meeting an analysis of the pension system, particularly how the loss of it could be implemented and how that decision would affect existing pensions.


Prevailing wage

It remained unclear Wednesday how some recently passed state legislation about prevailing wages — the rates set by unions and other parties for a particular craft — would affect Costa Mesa's proposed charter.

A 10-1 committee vote in October — Weitzberg dissented, and Fancher and O'Connell were absent — put prevailing-wage language in the charter days before Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 7, which allows the state to withhold funds for public-works projects in cities that permit contractors to pay other than prevailing wages.

For now, city staff have recommended leaving the prevailing-wage language in the charter until SB 7 faces legal challenges, according to Bauermeister. That aspect of the document can be revisited later on, he added.

Costa Mesa's charter, as currently written, doesn't require the city to pay prevailing wages on projects paid with local funds, though it would do so if required by the funding source, such as the state.

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