Voting with their hearts, not minds

Daily Pilot

I've never minded saying, "I told you so."

It reminds readers that like the broken clock, which is right twice a day, once in awhile the recommendations in this column are sound.

The latest case in point is the financial bungling of the Costa Mesa City Council, though the applications can apply to Newport Beach or almost any community leadership panel.

Costa Mesa is facing a deficit of about $16 million large. For a city its size, and for the size of its annual budget, that's a lot of coin. Unlike what you may believe, and what some on the council would like you to believe, the deficit is not a direct result of the recession. The recession has only made a bad problem worse. The good news is that it has exposed the weak link in the council's aggregate wisdom.

To the first point, the city began dipping into its reserves three years ago, before this recession began.

To the second point, the current council does not appear to have any clue as to how to restore the city to fiscal health, save for cutting staff and programs. That's no way to right the ship.

One indication of a lack of fundamentals in establishing long-term fiscal health was a vote last year during the height of the recession. At the council meeting of July 21, the council voted unanimously to spend $1.13 million to buy a brand-new fire truck. Did the city need a new fire truck? Yes. Did it need to buy a new fire truck at that time? No.

The vote was typical of many of the council: emotional instead of rational. After a powerful presentation in favor of buying a new truck — where, as an attendee, I was left with the impression that without this new truck, residents would be leaping to their deaths in a multistory fire that was certain to happen the next day — the council voted with its heart, not its head. Think of it this way: The city has a new fire truck, but the department may have to lay off the person trained to drive it.

Another example is the suggestion to help bail out the city by raising business fees, which are among the lowest in the county.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. A business-friendly council, a council that truly understood what is necessary for long-term growth and prosperity would not only vote no on such a proposal, they would be acting to lower business fees, not raise them. Further, officials would invite the Chamber of Commerce to make recommendations at a council meeting on how to make Costa Mesa more business-friendly, not just during the recession, but forever.

One need only look 40 miles north at Los Angeles to see what excessive fees can do to stifle business investment. There, location shooting for movies has dropped dramatically as studios went to Vancouver, Canada, and other business-friendly cities to produce their flicks.

So here's where the I told you so comes in. City leadership needs people with substantial business experience. My personal preference is someone who is a business owner, someone who has had to pay vendors before himself and who understands how to create wealth, not just manage a budget.

In the case of the current council, it is doing neither.

My other personal criteria is to elect people who are parents, but that is another column.

The residents of Costa Mesa are paying a steep price for poor leadership. They are being told that budget cuts are the only way to restore fiscal health but are provided no accountability for blowing the money.

"It's a recession" is not an excuse.

Worse, they are being misdirected to another subject, illegal immigration, as a way of taking attention away from the mess the council has created. That will not work. At the end of the day, it's still the economy that will matter to residents.

The good news is that every couple of years, voters have a chance to give someone else a try. This is a good time for voters to consider business experience as their deciding factor in a candidate.

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