Commentary: Councilman fails to justify need for charter

Re: "Bell-Costa Mesa comparison is irresponsible," (Aug. 19): Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger's unprovoked comment about community organizer Saul Alinsky seems to be an attempt to distract the reader from the fact that he did not directly address the similar patterns and events associated with the problematic charter city of Bell and Costa Mesa's charter efforts.

These similarities were described in my Aug. 12 letter to the Forum, "I see shades of Bell in Costa Mesa," and included the events and patterns of unpopular cost-cutting tactics, inadequate checks and balances, evasion of democracy and the illusion of local control.

Rather than addressing the issues raised in my letter, Mensinger attempts to attack my credibility and to intimidate the Daily Pilot by criticizing the editors for publishing my letter. This seems like an obvious attempt to inhibit my freedom of speech and that of the press.

Mensinger claims that there are many worthwhile issues to debate in Costa Mesa, but amazingly, he doesn't list the city charter as one of them. The charter is the most critical, risky and nearly irreversible decision that the city will make in the near future, and perhaps ever.

As a result, the residents need to know all of the pros, cons and risks associated with a charter. However, because the council majority hasn't provided all the cons and risks, residents must learn these for themselves, just as I did.

Mensinger implies that there is no similarity between Bell and Costa Mesa because Costa Mesa has active and informed residents, and there is robust public participation. However, remember that much of the community's input is routinely ignored by the City Council majority.

Take the charter as one example. Well over half of the people speaking at several council meetings said they didn't want a charter. This was ignored, and after it was clear that the council majority was proceeding anyway, numerous suggestions were offered to improve then-Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer's charter. Again, almost all of these were ignored.

The charter was defeated in November by 60% of the voters. However, without clear justification, this year the council majority again pushed for a charter over much of the community's objections.

After realizing it was going forward anyway, the residents recommended the Legislature-preferred method of an elected commission to determine whether a charter was needed, and if so, how it should be formed. Again, this was ignored. Instead a committee was appointed, with 10 of the 13 committee members handpicked by the council majority.

When so much of the robust public participation is ignored, it is like it doesn't exist, and this means fewer checks and balances — as in Bell.

Mensinger implied that he wants a healthy debate on solutions, but solutions to what? The council majority has not provided compelling and verifiable reasons for a charter.

Nor have they revealed specific and significant problems in Costa Mesa that can't be solved unless we have a charter. They didn't even want the newly formed charter committee to thoroughly discuss why a charter is needed. It is hard to offer solutions when you are unaware of the problems.

I remain concerned about the charter, the council majority's handling of it, and patterns that serve as warning signs that should be heeded.

CHARLES MOONEY lives in Costa Mesa.

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