Costa Mesa council members seek ways to ease infighting and boost collaboration

For years, Costa Mesa City Council meetings have provided clear indications of dissension and distrust among the city’s elected representatives.

The mood was different Tuesday, though, as council members met for a workshop to discuss how they can work together in a more effective and collegial way.

Settled into squishy chairs in a cozy meeting room at the Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa hotel, council members acknowledged their frustration with the political rancor that has long dominated the panel’s meetings.

They were united in their desire to reach a point where they can tackle the city’s challenges free from bitter divisiveness and in a way that is respectful of one another’s viewpoints.

“What this council needs is forgiveness,” Councilman John Stephens said.

“There’s a lot of history and a lot of water under the bridge, and nothing’s going to change that,” he said. “I think we need to forgive each other.”

In contrast to the flaring tempers and politically charged commentary that often mark council meetings, Tuesday’s workshop was a light, even cordial affair. Laughter, rather than raised voices, regularly punctuated the evening.

“I like that we are actually laughing, enjoying having a conversation,” Mayor Katrina Foley said.

Mayor Pro Tem Sandy Genis said she thinks it’s regrettable that “everything’s so political, it’s almost like we’re afraid to joke” during meetings.

Jan Perkins, a senior partner with consulting firm Management Partners, facilitated Tuesday’s discussion. The goal, she said, was to provide a relaxed environment for council members to have a more free-flowing and honest discussion.

“You can totally disagree on things,” she said, “but you don’t have to be disagreeable.”

City Manager Tom Hatch, Assistant City Manager Tammy Letourneau and City Attorney Tom Duarte also participated Tuesday to talk about how council and staff members could better collaborate to improve how the city operates.

The workshop started with a big-picture question: What do those in attendance think would make Costa Mesa a better place?

Council members’ responses were largely similar. Along with working more closely and collaboratively, they said they’d like Costa Mesa to develop in a responsible way that preserves the local character and quality of life.

“Costa Mesa would be an even better place if we had more fiscal responsibility, streets in better condition and less crime,” Councilman Allan Mansoor said.

During the second half of the workshop, council members discussed their priorities for the coming year and placed stickers on posterboards to mark the projects or efforts they want the city to focus on.

The most popular undertakings included maintaining a focus on fiscal responsibility, examining ways to address issues related to sober-living homes and tackling homelessness locally and with other communities.

Council members also said they want to continue efforts to improve public safety — such as fully staffing the Police Department — and complete planned projects in Lions Park, which include a new central library.

After the exercise, Perkins noted a significant overlap in what council members consider high priorities.

“We’ve become a big ‘kumbaya’ group,” Councilman Jim Righeimer joked to laughs from those in attendance.

“We all actually have the same goals,” Foley said. “We just have different ways of doing them.”

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