On Tuesday night (actually, at 1:30 Wednesday morning) the Costa Mesa City Council voted 3 to 1 (Councilwoman Wendy Leece voting no; Mayor Gary Monahan absent) to submit a proposed city charter to the voters.
They voted to use the draft charter that had been written by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer rather than letting the city's residents elect a committee to draft the charter.
In so doing, the council majority effectively said it would be in the city's best interest to use charter language approved by only three council members previously elected by the citizens (Councilman Steve Mensinger was appointed, not elected, to his position; Leece voted against it) than to allow the citizens to elect a 15-person committee for the express purpose of drafting the charter.
One has to ask, "Whose best interest is the council playing to?"
Something as important as a city charter — in effect, a constitution for the city — needs substantial input from all interests in the city, not just the interests of a small bloc of council members with a political agenda.
I'm not saying the city shouldn't have a charter, but the language and provisions of the charter will determine whether it's good or bad for the city as a whole.
Consider the U.S. Constitution. It's a great document, debated and drafted over a period of months by 55 committed citizens like George Washington and Ben Franklin. How different would it be if it had been drafted in a hurry by three or four of King George's men?
Yes, the charter adoption process requires three public hearings before it goes on the ballot, and the council has committed to at least one town hall meeting on the subject.
But what will this mean?
Will there be any changes from the first draft?
Council members themselves have said they don't make decisions based on what they hear at public hearings. They claim to have "hundreds" of supporters who don't attend hearings and don't send letters. So, how do we know if they'll listen?
Let's look at their record. In January 2011, the council created "working groups," two-member committees tasked with researching various topics. In February, the budget "group" (Righeimer and Monahan) recommended outsourcing 18 city functions. They produced no reports, cited no analysis, and even refused to say what, if anything, was the basis for their recommendations.
In February, the city attorney sent a report to the council advising that, according to existing policies and agreements, they must first do studies and determine which services would be outsourced before issuing layoff notices to employees who would be displaced.
In March, the council appointed a new city attorney. At a public hearing, citizens again reminded them of the need to do studies first. Nevertheless, the council voted to send layoff notices to almost half the city staff, before commencing any studies.
This resulted in, among other things, litigation costing taxpayers untold thousands of dollars. The litigation centers around violation of laws, policies and agreements which the council had chosen to ignore — and of which they had been reminded at public hearings.
In March, at a public hearing on a proposal from Mayor Pro Tem Righeimer, the public and the city Fire Department's own paramedic coordinator told the council why it should not consider using a private ambulance service as paramedics.
Nevertheless, the council majority voted to initiate the process. Even the city's contract ambulance company later said it didn't make sense. In response to that, Righeimer said, "That just tells us we need a new ambulance company."
At a public hearing in June, council considered the recommendations of a consultant study on reorganization of the Police Department. The city's consultant recommended a reduction to 136 sworn officers. The interim police chief (a well-respected, long-time law enforcement professional who was on his second tour of duty with the city) recommended 140 to 145 sworn officers. The council voted for a reduction to 126 officers, plus five more to be funded by a limited-term federal grant.
In September, Leece proposed an "ordinance relating to ex parte communication disclosures and transparency." The object was to require council members to disclose contacts they had received on agenda items outside the public hearing process. Council member Mensinger twisted the request into a motion that it be applied to communications to and from employee associations only. Fortunately, the one-sided motion failed on a 2-2 vote.
So, what have we learned? That the City Council majority is open and responsive to input received at public hearings? No. That they will politely (usually) listen and then do what they had set out to do in the first place? Seems like it. Do you trust them to write the constitution for your city? I don't either.
Restore employee pensions to sanity
I have been a Newport Beach resident for 34 years, and I want to applaud the efforts of the Newport Beach City Council to put some sanity in the public pension plans of city employees. I am sick and tired of the waste and excess spending at all levels of government.
A retirement plan that pays 90% of their largest annual wage at age 50 is far beyond excessive, when compared to the private sector. The public sector should have pensions that are comparable to the private sector.
The Newport Beach City Council has my 100% support, to cut waste and excess spending out of our city, and the public pensions are a great place to start.
Charter will destroy our city
Making Costa Mesa a charter city is just another ploy to break the unions and throw loyal employees out of work.
A quick glance at the Daily Pilot poll today should tell the City Council that they are going nowhere with their plan. More than 60% of the citizens see it for what it is, a power grab.
Having followed Jim Righeimer's political moves for years in Fountain Valley when I began to see his name crop up in Costa Mesa, I knew we were in for trouble. Everyone must do their part to stop these zealots before they destroy our city.
Editor's note: The online poll to which the writer refers is non-scientific.
Traffic at Harbor remains dangerous
As a parent who drives this route every day, all I can say is, duh! The area around Newport Harbor High School is complete mayhem during drop-off and pick-up — students weaving in and out of traffic on fcharter oot, bikes, skateboards, in crosswalks, out of crosswalks. Without crossing guards to assist, traffic on Irvine is at a standstill.
The Pilot mentioned a meeting between Tony Brine and school officials to discuss safety and that "nothing came of it." I can relate. At the start of the school year I contacted Harbor's administration, the school district and the Newport Beach Police Department voicing my concerns about the dangerous conditions surrounding the school. I was given the run around and a deaf ear. "Limited resources" seemed to be the refrain.
Notwithstanding the fact that this horrific incident was the direct result of one driver, the fact remains that there are serious safety issues which must be put into place to protect our students. I am sickened and saddened by this tragedy. Where is the supervision? CdM seems to have it.