Commentary: Charter was composed in haste


Not unexpectedly in a campaign season, the Forum page of this fine newspaper is packed with self-serving rhetoric from politicians on both sides of issues. That’s the way it is supposed to work. Well, I’m not running for anything, but I am very concerned about the potential impact of Measure V, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer’s Charter, on the city I’ve called my home for almost four decades.

I call it “Jim Righeimer’s Charter” because that is exactly what it is. At the end of last year, Righeimer asked the city attorney, Tom Duarte, to research and return to the City Council what it would take to place a charter proposal on the June ballot. At the next council meeting, Righeimer presented a short, nine-page document that he created by cutting and pasting from other charters throughout the state.

Converting Costa Mesa from a general law city, with all the protections provided to it as such by state law, to a charter city is the second-most important municipal decision the voters will have made — the first being the original decision to incorporate back in 1953.


Because of the gravity of this decision, it should not be rushed into without significant input from the community, yet that is exactly what happened. Righeimer tried to force this decision onto the June ballot when many fewer voters actually cast votes. Only a fortuitous mistake — a clerical error (some say it was divine intervention) — kept it off that ballot and provided time for the council to re-consider this document.

Twice, the council majority went through the charade of inviting public participation — once before the primary election and again following it. The first time around, the timeline was so tight that no organized opposition to Jim Righeimer’s Charter could be mustered. At the time, individual residents presented more than 200 suggestions for modification to the document, and with almost no exception, those suggestions were rejected out of hand.

Well, I have studied Jim Righeimer’s Charter. It is a hastily prepared, self-serving document without sufficient safeguards to prevent abuse and corruption.

Supporters of Jim Righeimer’s Charter say, “Well, if you don’t like the charter you can change it!” True enough, except the cards are stacked in favor of those who choose not to change it. The first review point is 10 years downstream! Having seen the damage this council has done in 18 months without a charter, my head spins at the changes members would try to make in a decade of unfettered control.

They say, “Well, you can use the initiative process if you don’t like it.” True, except under a charter those in power can decide just when such an item goes before the voters. As a general law city, the timelines and rules are quite clearly defined.

They say, “Well, most of our neighboring cities have charters and are doing just fine.” True. But those charters were originally created by charter commissions or committees made up of a broad cross section of residents and stakeholders.

They say, “We’ll save millions of dollars on municipal projects by not having to use the prevailing wages.” Maybe, but that only applies to projects within the city that do not use any state or federal funding. Those kinds of projects are few and far between.

The lengths to which Righeimer and his council majority will go to deceive the voters into approving his charter can best be demonstrated by a hastily called special council meeting early in August to perform what contract City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow called at the time a little “cleaning up of language.” Well, that “clean up” deleted the reference to no-bid contracts from the “Ballot Descriptions, Summary and Enumerations of Powers,” a document required by law to appear in the voter materials. As a result of that deletion, most voters will not know that Jim Righeimer’s Charter permits no-bid contracts and also allows the council to arbitrarily set the threshold for those contracts, opening up the door for corruption and crony contracts.

Let me be clear. I am not against Costa Mesa becoming a charter city. Only one quarter of California cities are charter cities, but it might be time for Costa Mesa to make that step. However, I am against this charter proposal. If the voters of this city join me in rejecting Jim Righeimer’s Charter on Nov. 6, there is nothing to stop the next council — or a concerned group of citizens — from convening a committee following state law to consider the issue and to create a document that truly represents the wishes and needs as defined by the broader community at a future election.

Costa Mesa will celebrate its 60th anniversary next year. For six decades we have managed just fine as a general law city. The voters of this city should not be stampeded into making such a monumental change. If you don’t understand every word in the current proposal, the answer is simple, join me and vote no on Measure V.

Blogger GEOFF WEST lives in Costa Mesa.