Commentary: Council should have made Leece mayor pro tem

Tuesday night was the Costa Mesa City Council’s first meeting with the newly elected and re-elected members. In light of Measure V’s sound defeat and Councilman Gary Monahan’s skin-of-the-teeth re-election — not to mention the mere 125-vote difference between total votes cast for the “3M” candidates and the “Top Three” candidates — I expected that the council majority would have gotten the message that they don’t have a mandate and they need to be more responsive to the public, more inclusive, cooperative and collaborative.

An earlier version of this commentary said the vote difference was 155. It is actually 125.

After the election, Councilman Jim Righeimer proposed that the remaining layoff notices be rescinded. Most hailed this as a step in the right direction, but many were (are) suspicious that he has something up his sleeve; that the apparent effort to work together is not all it seems.

The new council’s first official act was to elect a mayor and mayor pro tem. One would expect both to be elected from the majority bloc — and there’s nothing wrong with that — under normal circumstances.

But these aren’t normal circumstances. In this case, it was the council’s first opportunity to show that they really did hear the voice of the people, and that they are sincere in wanting to work together cooperatively in addressing the city’s important issues.

Appointing a mayor to represent the just-barely majority and a mayor pro tem to represent the pretty-darn-near-majority would have been an excellent way for the council to show that they really do understand, they really do care, and they really do want to consider all points of view.

But they didn’t do that. True to their record over the past two years, they sent the message that, “we’re in charge here.” They named Righeimer mayor and Councilman Steve Mensinger mayor pro tem, voting down the nomination of Wendy Leece in both cases.

I’m not saying the mayor pro tem position was owed to Councilwoman Leece, or that it was wrong to elect Mensinger to the position; that’s the vote we would have expected from a council majority under any other circumstances. I’m just saying that the council majority missed an opportunity. Starting out this way doesn’t portend well for their supposed new approach of cooperation. And it doesn’t recognize the slim margin by which they received the council majority.

It sends the message that the rhetoric about working together is just that — rhetoric. Maybe my hopes were unrealistically high, but I’m disappointed. That night, someone reminded me of a line in a Who song: “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.” Are we in for two more years of what we just went through?

PERRRY VALANTINE is a retired Costa Mesa city planner.