Committee votes to send proposed charter to council

Most members of the Costa Mesa Charter Committee gave a thumbs-up Wednesday night to sending the draft of the charter they created to the City Council for further review.

The 13-member committee met about 15 times over 10 months, debating all the way to make the six-page, constitution-like document a reality. After the council reviews and possibly alters the document, voters will probably get a chance to accept or deny it at the ballot box in November.

On Wednesday, 10 of the charter committee members found the paper satisfactory enough to send it on. Committee member Harold Weitzberg dissented; members Mary Ann O'Connell and Bill Fancher were absent.

The charter tackles a variety of city functions, some simple — keeping a five-member council and the name Costa Mesa, for instance — and others more complex, such as outsourcing, guidelines for public-works contracting and transparency in labor negotiations.

On labor negotiations, the proposed charter strengthens the already-approved COIN ordinance, or Civic Openness in Negotiations. The ordinance, adopted by the council in 2012, seeks to add transparency to the process of negotatiating with city employee unions, including making public each side's proposals and financial analyses.

On public contracting, the document has city staffers utilizing the Uniform Public Construction Cost Accounting Act and remaining in accordance with state and federal contracting procedures. City staff have said it avoids so-called no-bid contracts for public-works projects costing more than $1,000.

Committee member Brett Eckles called the document a collection of "opinions, ideas and facts backed up by substance."

Weitzberg expressed concern that the group was rushing the charter-creation process and working against an arbitrary deadline. Since the committee's inception in June, he also questioned the city's need for a charter and consistently raised concerns that its contents were already in place elsewhere in city law.

One last-minute change to the document sought to avoid the appearance of a boost in council members' pay. Despite already debating and reaching a majority vote on the matter, the committee voted to strike the language that said council members receive a monthly stipend of $2,100, with optional benefits, such as health care, deducted from that amount.

The council members currently receive $904.40 a month, excluding their health care plan and other benefits that boost the total compensation to a monthly average of about $2,500.

Instead, they decided to leave out amounts but simply call for the council's compensation to be in accordance with state law, conceding that it must be addressed somehow. Not including a mention in the charter, according to the committee's counsel, would give a council free rein to set its own compensation.

Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow briefly addressed how proposed state legislation could potentially force Costa Mesa to enact a district voting system to elect its council members. As is, the charter imposes an at-large system, and that could pose a conflict later.

Barlow added that it's uncertain how the bill would affect charter cities.

The council is scheduled to receive the charter March 18, with public hearings set for April 15 and May 20.

On June 17, the council could decide if it wants to place the charter on the November ballot.

At the conclusion of Wednesday's meeting, the committee members were complimentary of one another, their counsel, facilitators and city staff — even though at times they didn't always agree.

"It's been an honor to watch you, as committee members, work together," said facilitator Mike Decker, a pastor who co-led the group with Estancia High School Principal Kirk Bauermeister.

For committee member Hank Panian, who served on the original charter committee in 1971, doing it again in 2014 was like coming full circle. He commented how he also helped form the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and Mesa Water District decades ago.

"It's been a truly inspirational experience for me," Panian said. "Even though I found some of the discussions that we had over my head … you have all made an important addition to an old man's experience."

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