Community Commentary: Residents, not council, will decide charter

I was not surprised to read Perry Valantine's letter to the editor, "Residents should write city charter," (Mailbag, Dec. 10).

Not surprised because I have heard Valantine speak at City Council meetings in opposition to just about every idea that saves our city money. What Valantine neglected to mention is that he is a former city administrator who retired with a six-figure salary and a very favorable taxpayer-funded retirement.

Of course he doesn't want to see any financial reforms of our city because they impact his wallet! This is symbolic of the problem with our system: Those who benefit from it will do whatever they can to keep the system in place.

I will say that I agree with Valantine's concept. Our residents should have input and a say in a city charter. It is, after all, our city.

Valantine is free to propose his own charter, or provide comments on what should be fixed in the current proposal. After all, it is the residents of this city who will have the ultimate say on whether to adopt a charter, not the City Council.

But 110,000 people can't all write a charter. Shouldn't our democratically elected leaders propose a charter and seek input from the community on whether it should be adopted or what changes should be made?

The bigger question here is why it has taken Costa Mesa so long to even consider a charter. Several of our neighbors are charter cities. Newport Beach, Irvine and Huntington Beach have utilized their charter status to remain fiscally solvent during the economic downturn through a wide array of revenue-generating and cost-savings options that Costa Mesa does not have.

A charter will help Costa Mesa reduce its operating costs as a city. I don't need to remind the readers that Costa Mesa faces more than $220 million in unfunded pension obligations.

The proposed charter protects the taxpayers by requiring a vote of the people before lavish retirement benefits can be given to city employees. If we had that provision in place years ago, we would not have such a large unfunded pension obligation. Once again, it is the people, not the council, who will be making these important decisions.

Valantine can try to use his distaste for our council as a pretext to oppose the charter, but his energy and motives are misdirected. Whatever Costa Mesa's charter looks like, it is much bigger than a single council.

Councils come and go, but the charter remains. The charter is an opportunity for 110,000 Costa Mesans to write our own constitution and divorce themselves from Sacramento and its broken system of governance.

COLIN MCCARTHY is president of the Costa Mesa Taxpayers Assn.

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