Commentary: What would a man from Mars think of Costa Mesa?

A man from Mars, knowing nothing of democracy, might wonder what all the outrage in Costa Mesa is about.

If he got a little coaching on how Americans govern themselves, he might then ask, "Well, are the council members doing something illegal?"

But after learning that they are legally sitting as representatives of the people of Costa Mesa and are subject to reelection, he might think the residents are off-base to criticize the council so roundly and consistently.

If he dug deeper, though, he'd find that the residents are unremittingly outraged because the council has not only made unpopular decisions, but it has broken the compact between ruler and the ruled.

This compact is ancient and quite simple: Rulers must be responsive to the people. People agree to be ruled as long as the ruler is responsive to them.

This compact is no small thing to the people, as the man from Mars would have learned had he attended our schools. For 900 years, beginning with the Magna Carta in 1215, English-speaking peoples have fought to constrain the power of the ruler, whether king (then) or elected official (now).

The compact traveled across the Atlantic and helped justify our 1776 Declaration of Independence. We told the world that King George III was not responsive to the colonists' entreaties and petitions. So we fired him and the country he rode in on.

This compact is enshrined in the First Amendment as, "the right of the people … to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The man from Mars would need to know that the Jim Righeimer-led council has repeatedly broken the compact with residents by blowing off comments, requests and suggestions by the public, almost from the day that Righeimer was sworn into office in December 2010. The list of grievances of Costa Mesans is now longer than the colonists' list in the Declaration of Independence.

Speaking of which, the following excerpt from the declaration resonates with Costa Mesa residents:

"In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

Finally, there also is an implicit compact in Costa Mesa to make haste slowly. Councilmen Gary Monahan, Steve Mensinger and Mayor Eric Bever, slavishly following Righeimer's lead, have betrayed their constituency by not preserving and protecting their city and its culture.

Righeimer is a newcomer to Costa Mesa and may not have strong roots here, but Monahan, Mensinger and Bever should have known better than to sign up for a chainsaw approach to governing.

As a result, many residents do not trust them. They conclude that the councilmen deserve the label "unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

With this background, the man from Mars might be able to understand why there is so much outrage in Costa Mesa.

TOM EGAN, a City Council critic, is a longtime Costa Mesa resident.

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