Excellent Turnout For CM4RG Forum
Last night I joined at least 200 other interested parties at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center for a forum on Jim Righeimer's Charter conducted by the grass-roots organization, Costa Mesans For Responsible Government - CM4RG. I must say that it appeared to be a rousing success. The crowd was so large that the back wall of the room had to be opened to provide seating for an additional thirty or so attendees.
This forum, moderated by Harold Weitzberg and CM4RG President Robin Leffler, presented their views of some of the critical elements of Jim Righeimer's Charter via a panel discussion and a Question and Answer period at the end.
The panelists were retired Costa Mesa Senior Planning official Perry Valantine; retired former member of the Costa Mesa City Attorney's office, Eleanor Egan; former Mayor Sandra Genis; Back Bay High School teacher George Greenwalt and Eastside businessman Mike Harmanos. Former City Council member Katrina Foley, currently a trustee on the Newport-Mesa School Board, also helped provide answers.
Each panelist took five minutes to address segments of Jim Righeimer's Charter in which they had specific professional knowledge of the subject matter. Valantine, for example, discussed the land use elements. He emphasized that it won't change anything immediately, but, because the way the Charter is composed, the potential is there for very significant changes in the way the City would do business with developers.
Eleanor Egan discussed how elections could be handled under Jim Righeimer's Charter. She explained that, because of the way it is worded, it's possible for the City Council to just arbitrarily choose when an election is to be held. She worried about the consolidation of power in the hands of few without State oversight.
Teacher George Greenwalt discussed what it would take to amend Jim Righeimer's Charter, and compared the number of signatures necessary as opposed to those under a General Law city - 15% vs. 10% and cited an example of Huntington Beach - a Charter City - that had an issue qualified to go before the voters but the City Council stalled the vote for two and a half years.
Sandra Genis, a professional land use planner, discussed fiscal impacts of Jim Righeimer's Charter, including comparing some recent legal difficulties of other local Charter Cities. She mentioned the City of Anaheim's current difficulties with their outsourced graffiti removal program, which has been a dismal failure.
Non-resident panelist Reggie Mundekis, who was introduced as one of the people responsible for fighting off the sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds, addressed the issue of Prevailing Wages in public contracting and the negative side of Jim Righeimer's Charter in that regard. She spoke of the benefits of trained skilled laborers and advantages of getting jobs done by the lowest responsible bidder, as opposed to just the lowest bidder. She also, in response to a later question, read the Buena Park Charter - only a couple paragraphs long - which built in defaults to State General Law where issues were not specifically addressed in the charter. This is one of the major flaws in Jim Righeimer's Charter.
Mike Harmanos, an Eastside resident and businessman, discussed "What is the Truth" about Jim Righeimer's Charter, the outline of which is captured on this slide. Because of the lack of safeguards built into the document he likened it to the proverbial camel getting his nose under the tent. Eventually, little by little, that camel gets his whole body into the tent. This charter provides that little crack the camel needs.
Robin Leffler discussed one of her main concerns - the privatization of the TeWinkle Park Sports Complex. It is her view that Jim Righeimer's Charter would permit non-competitive bidding for a concessionaire and a 99-year lease, not the 55-year lease prescribed by a General Law city. She emphasized that no-bid contracts will be allowed, and that 75% of California cities ARE NOT Charter cities.
I must say that this forum turned out to be much more than I expected, both from a attendance standpoint and the quality of the presentations and the excellent questions that were posed to the panelists. I was impressed with their willingness to answer questions for which they KNEW the answers, to make educated assumptions based on their academic and professional backgrounds on others and to not answer questions where they didn't have an answer.
I was also impressed with the very positive tone of the forum. While CM4RG clearly opposes Jim Righeimer's Charter, their presentations and responses to questions were fact-based and carried no vitriol or emotion against the proponents. For example, when one question was asked about why proponents included certain of the segments of the charter - like forbidding payroll deductions for association dues - the response was that the panelist couldn't read folk's minds, so they couldn't answer the question.
Through it all, in the back of the room on the far right - seemed appropriate - sat Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and his sidekick, non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger. To my knowledge, neither of them submitted question cards to the moderator. They sat quietly and listened - a refreshing change.
Congratulations to the Costa Mesans For Responsible Government for presenting this excellent, informative forum for the residents of our city. Depending on how a judge rules on the issue of the tardy submission of the ballot measure to the Registrar of Voters, we may see more such informational meetings as this before the June election.
It is my understanding that offers have been made to the proponents of Jim Righeimer's Charter to hold a debate on it, but those overtures were rejected. I suspect such an event would be slightly less constrained.
The only real low point for me last night was seeing besieged Sanitary District Director and Planning Commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick skulking around in the back of the room and then finding his own, personal fliers plastered over the windshields of all the cars in the parking lot - including mine. What a pathetic guy!