Cassity: Charter would give us more control

On the heels of my most recent column, which shined a Klieg light on Sacramento's wretched excesses of late, I've been looking around for ways to continue beating that figurative drum to the potential benefit of our citizenry.

Regardless of one's political persuasions, you have to admit that things in our once-Golden State are more than a little bit tarnished.

It seems that the worse things get in Sacramento, the more the folks up there turn their focus on cities, such as ours, for financial relief. They've already done it once. There's no reason to think they won't do it again. I think it can be reasonably stated that we should keep our hands on our wallets, lest Gov. Jerry Brown and Co. make another raid on our coffers.

It's for that reason that I've taken a heightened interest in this whole Costa Mesa charter debate. Accusations and condemnations are banging around like a BB in a boxcar among the various parties in this dust-up.

The current City Council majority and some running for the three open seats in November state that they wish to adopt a charter because doing so would give us more local control and greater sovereignty, would save us millions of dollars, due to the ability to outsource expensive services, and would prevent future increases in public employee pensions without a vote of We, The People.

The opposing triumvirate of council hopefuls says that charter proponents are only involved in a power grab and cannot be trusted to manage our fair city under charter rules. They say that a charter would permit "no-bid contracts" and the hiring of cheap, substandard labor. They say passing the charter would pave the way for tax increases, and permit favoritism, cronyism and corruption.

Clearly, they cannot both be right.

So, to find out for myself the truth about all of this, I went to http://www.costamesaca.gov and downloaded the charter. The first thing that surprised me was its length. Ten pages, only. But then again, it's a charter, not a novel.

I was next surprised by how simple and straightforward it is. Every city in California, including Costa Mesa, is a general law city unless it chooses to adopt a charter. And the majority of Costa Mesa's charter language continues to require us to operate the same as we have up until now.

The only major changes have to do with the increased ability to more efficiently utilize our municipal workforce and the opportunity to hire experienced, qualified labor at other than so-called prevailing (union) wages.

And as to the "no-bid" accusations, every project greater than $5,000 would still have to go out for bid in the proposed charter. No changes there.

Another complaint has to do with the fact that the proposed charter was developed through "cutting and pasting" of other surrounding cities' charters. It seems to me that developing a charter starting with a clean sheet of paper would be a rather tedious, time-consuming and expensive process, running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, at the very least.

Maybe it's just me, but developing a charter using already-available, time-proven and court-tested language in use by neighboring cities would seem to be the most cost-effective way of doing things.

And as to the "power grab" accusation, three council members can vote at present to adopt or amend or rescind a law or an ordinance. Under the proposed charter, three council members could still vote to adopt or amend or rescind. No changes there.

Of California's 480 cities, 120 have chosen to adopt charters. That group includes Newport Beach, Irvine and Huntington Beach. Charter law seems to work pretty well for them. If it didn't, they would certainly have voted to change it.

And, under charter law, ours included, they could. It seems to me that going forward with the proposed charter come November is the best bet for us to wrest control from Sacramento and finally begin to take matters into our own hands.

I suggest you read the charter for yourselves and then make up your own minds whether to vote for Measure V. Who knows? Maybe the "V" will prove to stand for "Victory over Tyranny."

CHUCK CASSITY is a longtime Costa Mesa resident active in education, youth sports and other causes. His column appears every other Friday.

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