Costa Mesa Charter On November Ballot
To absolutely nobody's surprise among those 100 or so folks gathered in the Costa Mesa City Council chambers last night, the council voted to place Jim Righeimer's Charter on the November 6th ballot. Actually, there were fewer than 30 people left when the vote was taken. Many of the rest bailed out after they took their three minutes at the speaker's podium. In fact, we were out of the auditorium well before 10:00 p.m.
NO "RED" IN SIGHT
I arrived early - 5:00 p.m. - for the meeting that was to begin at 7:00 - because I wanted to be there for the closed session and I wanted to see what kind of a crowd might assemble based on the OC GOP appeal to the Orange County Young Republicans. Based on the email message I'd seen earlier, I expected to see dozens of bright young people, all dressed in red shirts, scrambling for pizza before they were handed their scripts to read before the council. I didn't want to have to arm-wrestle one of them for a seat. I shouldn't have worried. The only red shirt in the house was on the back of resident Phil Morello, President of the Costa Mesa Republican Assembly, who actually suggested bankruptcy as a solution to our fiscal woes! The rest of the freshly-scrubbed Young Republicans apparently didn't get the "red shirt" message.
WRONG TIME - SMALL TURNOUT OF PROPONENTS
Just before six a couple of them arrived, expecting to find their cohorts on site already. Seems they'd been told the meeting was at 6:00! Maybe they read the city flier that was mailed to all residents which showed that time. I went outside a few minutes later and found a few folks chowing down on pizza from the rear end of a SUV- and few of them looked like "young" Republicans. As it turned out, all of them were from the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) who came to sing the praises of Jim Righeimer's Charter. I don't think any of the young folks got pizza.
MOST SPEAKERS OPPOSE
Mayor Eric Bever, who showed up late for the closed session an hour earlier, kicked off the Charter meeting at 7:05. Ninety-five minutes later 42 speakers had addressed the council and 69% of those spoke against it. Of the remaining 13 speakers, nine were either Young Republicans or ABC spokesmen (two of which were Costa Mesa residents). The remaining four were actual Costa Mesa residents without a script or an agenda.
EVERETT, THE SCRIPT-WRITER
One of the speakers from the ABC was Dave Everett, freshly-minted Government Affairs Director - more recently the Executive Director of the Orange County Republican Party - who apparently provided the script for the young folks and read his own later. As each of them spoke you could almost predict the words since they were all using the same song book. If there was any doubt about the cross-pollination of those two organizations, Everett's presence herding a covey of Young Republicans removed it.
I felt just a little sorry for those bright Young Republicans who stepped up and read the script handed to them just a few minutes earlier. It was very clear that few of them had any real knowledge of the issue, and yet they stood and spoke - like a pup "speaking" for a treat. Folks around the auditorium chuckled to themselves as speaker after speaker laid that prepared text in front of them at the podium and tried to read parts that made sense to them. They didn't pull it off.
CANDIDATES PRESENT AND VOCAL
Of those speakers who spoke against Jim Righeimer's Charter, several were members of Costa Mesans For Responsible Government and also included council candidates Sandra Genis, Sue Lester, John Stephens and Harold Weitzberg.
ROBIN SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT
Over that hour and a half most speakers addressed the council with respect, outlining their concerns with varying levels of detail. Several pointed out specific deficiencies in the Charter while others delivered their message with more emotion than facts. I had to chuckle when CM4RG President Robin Leffler stood and used valuable time to set the record straight about this blog, which had been identified by Everett in his call to action earlier this week as a "liberal blog". She pointed out to the council that I, by name, was a "Big R" Republican and that the only thing liberal about me was my liberal criticism about "this half-baked Charter". I smiled. Later one friend asked if she had said "Big Arse" - I smiled again, knowing that she didn't say that, but if so, that Fruedian slip was pretty darn close to home. As a sidebar, I saw Everett as he sat in the audience before the proceedings began and I introduced myself as a life-long Republican and the author of A Bubbling Cauldron. He was courteous and a little flummoxed. Thanks, Robin...
SOME NEW SPEAKERS
Once again, in addition to the "usual suspects" - those residents who actually care enough about their city to study the issues, step away from family obligations and actually address them to the council - there were a sprinkling of unfamiliar faces taking the speaker's podium for the first time. It takes guts to do that, especially knowing that one or more of the council members may throw a caustic, snide remark at your back as you depart. In fact, one speaker pointed that out to the council, but that didn't keep Bever from demonstrating that he simply has no self-control. Time after time he tossed juvenile retorts at one speaker or another.
UNEVEN APPLICATION OF THE RULES
Speaking of Bever, he again demonstrated an uneven application of the rules last night. When 34-year Costa Mesa resident Bill Henniger (sp?) attempted to explain his concerns about the Charter by presenting a summary of the reasons he didn't trust this council with it, Bever tried to shut him off, telling him to stick to the Charter. Henniger tried to explain that's what he was doing, but Bever's interruption did what he apparently hoped to accomplish - he knocked Henniger off his stride, but he did finish. The next speaker, Jim Kerr (above) from Huntington Beach - one of the pizza-eaters, a spokesman for the ABC and a proponent of the Charter - rambled on with an explanation of the ABC, using up at least two minutes on that irrelevant drivel and Bever never said a word. Despite the fact that he kept on tossing mini-grenades at speakers, I guess we should all consider ourselves lucky that he didn't curse us out and tell us to go home.
Special council for this issue, Kimberly Hall Barlow - former City Attorney and member of the law firm Jones and Mayer - was on hand to guide the discussion and answer questions about the most recent minor modifications made to the Charter. Resident Tamar Goldmann expressed an opinion during her three minutes that City Attorney Tom Duarte should NOT be permitted to compose the "impartial analysis" of the Charter that will appear in the voter handbook because he answers to the majority on the council that will approve it and is hardly impartial. Barlow addressed this with the following comment:
"I do want to address one issue that was raised by a speaker with respect to the impartial analysis. The City Attorney is a public officer designated by the Elections Code and the Government Code to prepare the impartial analysis. Mr. Duarte is not a city employee and neither am I so I'm sure that I will work with him to insure that the impartial analysis is what is required by the code and other than that I'd be happy to answer any questions."
I think that the fact that this question was even raised gives a good idea of how little trust some residents of this city have for this council and its administration.
BEVER CAN'T SHUT UP!
The vote to place Jim Righeimer's Charter on the November 6th ballot passed, 4-1. Wendy Leece voted no after delivering a clear, concise explanation of her reasons during which several council members rolled their eyes and smirked at her. And, after Leece ended with this sentence, "Whether we adopt the Charter or not in November or the voters approve, I know that we will continue to work hard and the residents will help us to continue to make Costa Mesa a great city to live in and that's clean and safe and has great parks and and a great place to raise our families. So, I'm sorry, but I cannot support this Charter in its present form.", Bever, in his own infantile way, threw this comment at her, "And a great place for grandstanding." I seriously think this poor man needs some professional help. He just CANNOT stand it unless he gets the last word in! He just needs to keep his snide, caustic yap shut and move on.
Several speakers suggested to include the ENTIRE Charter on the sample ballot. The council agreed and CEO Tom Hatch said that, in addition to the initial ballot cost of nearly $100,000, it would cost around $14,700 to include the entire Charter. Printing of the proposed informational mailers suggested in the staff report would cost around $10,000 each.
NOW, OFF TO WORK!
So, now the fun begins. Jim Righeimer's Charter will now become the cornerstone of debate during the city council campaign. So far no entity has expressed interest in holding a "Charter-only" debate during the campaign season but questions on it will certainly be addressed during the council candidate forums this summer and fall. Each side will undoubtedly find ways to get their messages out. It may boil down, as Daily Pilot columnist Jeffrey Harlan suggested recently, to a matter of trust. If that's the case, this Charter will be DOA at the ballot box.