Council "Fixes" A Mistake To Fool Voters
In a short, but heated, emergency meeting of the Costa Mesa City Council this afternoon, the council approved changes to Exhibit A, Ballot Descriptions, Summary and Enumerations of Powers. The result has been called a cover-up by some. They are probably correct. The proceedings generated a lot of heat but not much light. Read on..
A PROCESS FRAUGHT WITH ERRORS
Former contract City Attorney and current contract Special Council Kimberly Hall Barlow guided the council through the discussion, beginning with a lengthy apology to the council and public for having to be there in the first place. She acknowledged that confusion between her office and the City Clerk caused this problem. This process has been cursed from the beginning, when a "clerical error" - later defined as a "significant professional failure" - and another "clerical error" (with a little help from yours truly) on the noticing requirements on an end-run they tried kept Jim Righeimer's Charter from the June ballot.
Before Public Comments councilwoman Wendy Leece wondered, since the changes are to a document already submitted to the Registrar of Voters, would the folks who oppose the Jim Righeimer's Charter and who authored the argument against it be afforded the opportunity to modify their presentation? The answer from Barlow was, no, because the deadline for that document was August 7th. Conveniently, the deadline for the document in question is on the 10th.
STEPHENS SETS THEM STRAIGHT
During Public Comments council candidate and lawyer John Stephens and an author of the argument against Jim Righeimer's Charter, led off with a clear, crisp presentation of just what the main modification being proposed does - hides the truth from the voters who will make their decision in November based in great part on what they read in that document. Even though the entire charter will be provided to the voters, few will take the time to read it - they'll read the summary. Stephens and others suggested that the major change - it deletes reference to no-bid contracts and thereby misleads the voters - may have been a direct result of proponents of the charter reading their opposing document, then modifying the Summary to attempt to neutralize part of their discussion. He wrapped up his presentation with the following statement:
"So, what we have here is a situation, I think, where the council read our argument and did not want, in the ballot summary and enumeration, the term 'no-bid contract' because it tracks our argument. So, essentially what's happening here, what I think, and you know - and I'm not speculating on what you think - is you want to take that language out so the voters don't know about it. And what you're voting on is to cover up a 'bad fact'. The bad fact is no-bid contracts. When my opponent in a case tries to cover up a bad fact, I like that. I like it for two reasons. It highlights that the opponent has recognized that the fact is bad. That is, that the charter allows for no-bid contracts under 401(c). And it also undermines the credibility of my opponent. So, I'm asking you today, please vote in favor of these changes because I think it substantially helps the anti-charter movement because it gives us a great argument on the substance and the credibility of the pro-charter movement."
NO SPEAKERS IN FAVOR...
Another half-dozen residents rose to speak against this maneuver - there were NO speakers in favor of it - most of whom expressed significant concern about this move.
FOLEY LIGHTS THE FUSE
The real fireworks happened when former councilwoman Katrina Foley interrupted Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer as he questioned Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz about no-bid contracts - clearly reading word-for-word from the argument against the charter that had been submitted earlier in the week and filed with the Registrar of Voters. She, in requesting a point of order, said the following:
"Member Righeimer is taking the ballot argument against the charter and asking questions regarding the ballot argument against the charter and asking the staff to give opinions about the ballot statement against the charter. It's not appropriate."
FOLEY, PART 2
Righeimer ignored her and went on with his train of thought, continuing to interrogate Munoz about no-bid contracts. When he completed his interrogation and yielded the floor, Foley, again, stepped to the speaker's podium and said the following:
"Mr. Mayor, I'd like to ask the City Attorney and the City Manager if the public is going to be allowed to provide their opportunity to question staff in a public hearing regarding the statement in favor of the ballot? As Mr. Righeimer has used guise of an emergency meeting to correct some grammar and fix some statements to the ballot argument in order to ask questions of staff in a public meeting on the record and use it as an opportunity to attack the statement against the charter. It's improper and illegal."
BEVER THREATENS FOLEY WITH EJECTION
All the while Mayor Eric Bever, obviously peeved at Foley, tried to get her to be quiet. He talked over her - or tried to - called the Sergeant-at-arms and threatened to have her removed from the chambers if she interrupted again. High drama, indeed.
It was VERY clear to the 35 people in the audience what was going on. Righeimer was using his position of authority to stifle dissent of his Charter and to deceive the voters, once again. I doubt if anyone in the audience this afternoon actually believed Barlow's protestation that she didn't know a thing about the arguments. With the exception of the subterfuge to hide the reference to no-bid contracts, the other changes could have been as an administrative modification without the need for a council meeting.
A VISION OF WHAT MAY BE AHEAD
I believe what the folks viewing the tape of this meeting will take away from observing this proceeding is that we're just seeing a little taste of what will be in store for us if Jim Righeimer's Charter is passed and he and his cronies remain in power. They already have demonstrated over and over again an unwillingness to follow the rules that protect us from abuse. If this charter is passed - with it's woefully inadequate safeguards from abuse - Righeimer and his pals will just make up the rules as they go along. Based on their performance over the past 18 months or so, I certainly don't believe those rules will benefit the residents of this city.
A MESSY FALL AHEAD
So, now the fun begins. We have five candidate forums ahead of us over the next couple months at which the voters will be able to form their own judgments of the candidates for city council and the wisdom, or lack thereof, of voting in Jim Righeimer's Charter. It's going to be a very messy fall.