Righeimer Wants A "Charter City"
At the very tail end of a much-longer-than-expected Costa Mesa City Council meeting Tuesday night - after all but a handful of observers had departed and local reporters had already filed their stories - Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer detonated what amounted to a nuclear device in the council chambers - he called for contract City Attorney Tom Duarte to bring back "in writing" the process it would take to convert Costa Mesa from a General Law City to a Charter City in time for that measure to be placed on the June ballot.
TRYING TO CIRCUMVENT THE JUDGE
In his preamble to this demand it was clear that he was frustrated by the lawsuit that has produced a temporary injunction which ties the City's hands with regard to outsourcing certain city functions to private companies and wants to use the "Charter City" scheme to circumvent the legal process. Righeimer griped that the opposition "was trying to run out the clock, get to another city council and see what we can do." He whined about not being able to do "what every other city can do" with regard to outsourcing because, as he said, "We didn't do anything wrong." Well, apparently Judge Barbara Tam Nomoto Schumann feels otherwise, since it was she - after reviewing the case - who issued the injunction. As it stands right now, a court date of April 9, 2012 has been set for the lawsuit.
So, what does this "Charter City" thing mean to us? Well, there are lots of informative sites available to us on the internet to answer most of the questions - some of which I expect Tom Duarte will use in his response to the council. You can visit the State of California site, HERE, for the nuts and bolts. You can also visit the League of California Cities site, HERE, for an easy-to-use reference.
SOME LOCAL CHARTER CITIES
Among the interesting things you'll find out is that about one quarter of all California cities - 120 - are Charter cities, including our neighbors in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Irvine, Santa Ana and Anaheim. Perhaps the most infamous Charter city is Bell, where officials, including City Manager Robert Rizzo, used the flexibility of their charter to basically gut the city financially.
Here are a few interesting - and scary - facts about Charter Cities vs. General Law Cities provided by the California League of Cities: (The emphasis is mine.)
The California Constitution gives cities the power to become charter cities. The benefit of becoming a charter city is that charter cities have supreme authority over "municipal affairs". In other words, a charter city's law concerning a municipal affair will trump a state law governing the same topic.
A city charter, in effect a city's constitution, need not set out every municipal affair the city would like to govern. So long as the charter contains the declaration that the city intends to avail itself of the full power provided by the California Constitution, any city ordinance that regulates a municipal affair will govern over a general law of the state.
A "MUNICIPAL AFFAIR"
Determining what is and is not a "municipal affair" is not always straightforward. The California Constitution does not define "municipal affair". It does, however, set out a nonexclusive list of four "core" categories that are, by definition, municipal affairs.
1) Regulation of the "city police force"
2) Subgovernment in all or part of a city
3) Conduct of city elections
4) The manner in which municipal officers are elected
SOME COURT DECISIONS
Beyond that list it is up to the courts to determine what is and is not a municipal affair. The concept of "municipal affairs" is fluid and may change over time. Issues that are municipal affairs today could become areas of statewide concern in the future. Nonetheless, there are some areas that courts have consistently classified as municipal affairs. These include:
1) Municipal election matters
2) Land use and zoning decisions (with some exceptions)
3) How a city spends its tax dollars
4) Municipal contracts, provided the charter or a city ordinance exempts the city from the Public Contract Code, and the subject matter of the bid constitutes a municipal affair. Thus, a charter may exempt a city from the State's competitive bidding statutes.
YOU CAN ALMOST SEE THEM DROOL...
So, can you see why Righeimer and his cronies are salivating to convert our city from a General Law City to a Charter City? It gives them the ability to exercise absolute control over almost every single element of our municipal government - and how it affects each of us.
THE FIRST CHOICE
There are two ways for a city to become a Charter City. The first, which seems to be much more cumbersome, is for the electorate to vote on whether it wants to establish a "charter commission". That can be done by the city council deciding to elect a charter commission or by a petition signed by at least 15% of registered voters. Candidates must be nominated and then the vote is taken, deciding first IF a charter commission shall be elected. If that passes, the top 15 vote-getters become the commission and will be responsible for developing the city's charter.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN
The alternative - which is obviously the way this particular power-hungry council will go - is for the council to develop and draft the charter, then place it on the ballot, where a majority of the voters must vote in favor for it to become effective. The council could call a special election or have it appear on the ballot of a regularly scheduled election.
IT MAY BE TIME TO MOVE ON...
Just when you thought things couldn't possibly get any worse... If this council, with it's disregard for the rules and willingness to make up "facts" as they go, successfully converts our city to a Charter City and has the power during that process to codify their run-and-gun style as the rule of law in our city, the potential for abuse and corruption is undeniable.
NO STOPPING THEM!
Currently the council must follow the state laws that apply to running a city. If they form a Charter City - and write the charter on which all municipal governance is based - our city and the contracts which form much of the foundation for our operations will be at great risk. If they are able to circumvent the legal orders by a Superior Court judge, then what we thought was heavy-handedness on their part before will become codified governance by sledgehammer.
IT'S A MATTER OF TRUST
Yes, over 100 cities in this state successfully operate as Charter cities, but they're not presently governed by this mob. This all boils down to a matter of trust and I just don't trust this city council to do what is best for our city.
GUTTED RFPS AUTHORIZED FOR RELEASE
What about the rest of the meeting? Yes, they authorized the issuance of the four RFPs on the agenda, but only after disemboweling the Fleet Maintenance item to the point where we were left wondering just who would end up doing the work they extracted from the proposal. Righeimer led that charge, too, chopping out page after page of content. He seemed not the least bit concerned about how that work would get done.
RE-HEARING NEXT MONTH
After 90 minutes of discussion they also shoved off for a month the issue of the renovation of the apartment complex on Country Club Drive, responding to very significant resident outcry at the loss of the lake and major safety concerns. That item will be re-visited by the staff and the developer using many of the concerns expressed last night as guidelines to see what kind of compromises might be found.
And, they passed the ordinance prohibiting smoking at athletic facilities and within 50 feet of public parks. Steve Mensinger requested that the use of smokeless tobacco not be included, so I guess we can expect to see him and his cronies and their kids spitting tobacco juice without fear of reprisal by law enforcement.
MONAHAN OVERLOOKED HATCH
Mayor Gary Monahan, once again, got so disoriented by his juggling of the schedule that he completely forgot to have CEO Tom Hatch present his report to the city. That's too bad, because there are many issues pending that he likely would have addressed for us last night. I guess we'll just have to wait for his E-Briefing Friday.