Commentary: This is what we meant by ‘cronyism’ in ballot argument


In his commentary, “Proposed ballot argument falsely claims ‘cronyism,’” Planning Commissioner Tim Sesler argues that a sentence in the ballot argument against the proposed city charter inaccurately uses the term “cronies” to describe the Costa Mesa Charter Committee.

For context, the paragraph in the ballot argument reads, “What part of NO don’t the councilmen understand? In 2012, Costa Mesa voters rejected their charter scheme by a decisive 60/40 vote. But the councilmen didn’t listen to us. They stacked a ‘committee’ with their cronies who cobbled together a charter that’s even worse. No one bothered to consider whether Costa Mesa even needs a charter.”

I stand by the entire paragraph.

The intended meaning of “cronies” was a loyal friend, comrade or a political hanger-on who is appointed to a government post without regard to his or her qualifications relative to other applicants. Costa Mesa’s charter committee perfectly fits that meaning.


The charter committee selection process was flawed and rife with cronyism. Instead of allowing the voters to determine the members of a charter commission, three councilmen (Jim Righeimer, Gary Monahan and Steve Mensinger) voted in May 2013 to appoint a “committee.” Thirty-seven citizens applied for the committee during the short, 20-day application period. Six days later, the charter committee was selected by appointment, vote and “lottery.”

Each council member appointed one charter committee member — Lee Ramos (Mensinger), Mary Ann O’Connell (Sandra Genis), Ron Amburgey (Monahan), Bill Fancher (Righeimer) and Hank Panian (Wendy Leece). The next five were selected by nomination and vote. The three councilmen voted down each nomination by Genis and Leece.

Therefore, three councilmen nominated each of the second five charter committee members — Brett Eckles, Tom Pollitt, Kevin Tobin, Gene Hutchins and Tom Graham. Kerry McCarthy, Harold Weitzberg and Andrew Smith were added by “lottery.” Of the 13 members of the charter committee members, only two (Panian and O’Connell) were appointed or nominated by Genis or Leece.

Of the eight members appointed or nominated by the three councilmen: all were men; none had prior municipal or public-policy experience; and most had personal or political ties to the councilmen or were appointed by them in 2013 to multiple city committees. For instance:

•Ramos, a Mensinger appointee, was also appointed to the Fairview Park Committee. He is now a City Council candidate, supported by the three councilmen. Ramos’ handwritten application contains no specific qualifications.

•Amburgey, a Monahan appointee, was also appointed to the Fairview Park Committee. He is now a candidate for the Newport-Mesa water board, supported by the three councilmen. His one-sentence application references no specific qualifications.

•Pollitt, a Righeimer nominee, is a founder of the Newport-Mesa Tea Party. The three councilmen supported Pollitt’s unsuccessful run for the Orange County Board of Education.

•Hutchins, a Monahan nominee, also was appointed to the Pension Oversight Committee.

•Eckles, a Monahan nominee, also was appointed on the Fairview Park Committee. Like Mensinger, Eckles wants lighted sports fields in Fairview Park.

The councilmen rejected qualified applicants, including a PhD candidate in urban planning, a former congressional legislative assistant, a former Costa Mesa Planning Commission vice chair, a government attorney, a former Costa Mesa vice mayor and a former Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission chairman.

The result of this committee stacking had the councilmen’s desired result. Their cronies delivered another proposed charter giving the City Council virtually unlimited power without regard to state law.

It should be voted down — again.

Attorney JOHN STEPHENS is a member of the city’s Pension Oversight Committee. A Costa Mesa resident, he ran for City Council in 2012.