Civility Reigns At Mesa Verde Community, Inc., Forum
Well, that was disappointing! No slings... No arrows... No barbs aimed at fellow candidates.. No name-calling. All in all, the Costa Mesa City Council Candidate Forum produced by our friends from Mesa Verde Community, Inc., was a pretty darn civilized affair. And it was well-run, to boot! Heck, even the audience was courteous and respectful!
WYRICK RUNS A TIGHT SHIP
An audience of more than 250 souls who came out to see the first of five forums this season were treated to an informative, crisply-moderated event. Mesa Verde Community, Inc., President Darnell Wyrick ran a tight ship. He defined the rules in the beginning and enforced them as the evening moved forward. In 90 minutes he managed to ask 14 questions of the candidates, each of whom were given one or two minutes to respond, depending on the question. He avoided questions directed specifically at one person, choosing to select those that could be answered by every candidate.
Permit me an observation before I get into specifics of the evening. If a resident walked in off the street with no preconceptions about any of the candidates and only a limited knowledge of the major issues facing Costa Mesa today and into the future, I suspect that person would come away from the evening being impressed with the high quality of candidates from which he will choose in November. With the exception of Al Melone, who clearly was not up to speed on most issues, all the others would have been assessed as smart, knowledgeable, passionate and articulate. Even Melone came across as a likable fellow, just not very informed. I suspect my theoretical visitor might be hard pressed to make a selection based only on his exposure to the candidates last night.
Wyrick gave each candidate a chance to introduce themselves and - setting the tone for the rest of the evening - he permitted the only woman on the panel, Sandra Genis, to go first. She emphasized her previous tenure on the City Council - from 1988 - 1996 - and refreshed the memory of the audience about the accomplishments from that tour. She spoke of being raised in Costa Mesa and of her background as a Land Use consultant.
Colin McCarthy emphasized his decision to move to Costa Mesa, his municipal involvements and his family.
Al Melone spoke of his 8 years as a Costa Mesa resident and his background as a CPA. His areas of interest included Fireworks, which he strongly opposes. That means at least half the population will find him unacceptable as a candidate.
Steve Mensinger mentioned he'd lived in Costa Mesa "about 30 years", that he's part of an "energized family", that he enjoys public service and - not surprisingly - was the first person to allude to the whole Righeimer DUI issue. I had speculated that it might take one or two questions before someone found a way to fold it into a response. Turns out I was optimistic - Mensinger didn't even let us get to the questions.
Gary Monahan mentioned his long service on the council and other organizations, his six kids and that he's NOT seeking higher office. He stressed what a busy life he has, with his restaurant being a 7-day-a-week job. I found myself wondering how he will find time to govern, especially since he resigned as Mayor earlier this year, citing being too busy.
John Stephens talked of his 28 years as a Costa Mesa resident, his Little League leadership experience, his profession as a lawyer and briefly that he opposes the Charter.
Harold Weitzberg mentioned being a 29 year resident and stressed his slogan, Unity, Safety, Prosperity.
NOTE: I'm not going to try to give you a verbatim transcription of the answers the candidates provided. Costa Mesa Television was taping the proceedings and that tape will be available for viewing soon. Take the time to view it on Channel 24 or 99 (Att. U-Verse) - it will be 90 minutes well-spent.
THEIR FIRST SIX MONTHS?
Just after 7:30 Wyrick asked his first question. He asked each of the candidates what they would try to do during their first six months in office. McCarthy said expand the bike infrastructure. Melone said he'd push for a Fireworks referendum. Mensinger said he'd expand our ordinances and transparency. Genis said she'd try to develop a more collaborative approach to negotiating with the employees and find a place for a new Veterans Hall. Monahan said he'd push to finish the outsourcing. Stephens said he'd try to resolve the lawsuit between employees and The City because we're "hemorrhaging money to Jones Day". Weitzberg said he'd come to terms with the service organizations.
2ND PENSION TIER?
The second question asked for their view on a second pension tier. Basically, they all are for it.
The third question asked if we should hire private contractors. All agreed that we should. McCarthy would not support outsourcing public safety jobs. Genis mentioned that the current council didn't follow the rules which caused the lawsuit and millions in legal fees. Stephens stress doing it in a responsible way. Weitzberg stressed doing it in an orderly fashion.
MENSINGER'S "COIN" PROGRAM
The fourth question asked their opinion of the recently proposed COIN program. Weitzberg said it was a great first start, but they didn't go far enough. It should be aimed at a broader application, not just labor relations. Stephens agreed with it, but was worried about how the normal "back and forth" in negotiations might be affected. He thought it would really slow the process. Monahan said it is "history cutting", whatever that means. Genis expressed similar views and was concerned about contract costs. Mensinger liked it. He should - it's his idea. Melone said it's a long time coming. McCarthy said it is "pretty revolutionary" and that it would get rid of "unfair negotiating".
Wyrick then asked his fifth question - he asked each candidate to provide a summary of their views on the Charter, since many of the questions he had seemed to come from the Charter. McCarthy said he was disappointed it didn't get on the June ballot because he was sure it would have passed. He stressed local control. Melone supported the charter, but didn't articulate his reasons. Mensinger said he "clearly support the charter." He stressed local control and money savings by outsourcing. Genis said she supported a good charter, but this is not a good charter. She mentioned you can already outsource without a Charter. She stressed what the Charter doesn't have and pointed to Section 103. She said it was too open-ended and mentioned it removes all restrictions on the sale of public lands. Monahan, in the first instance of criticism of fellow panelists, referred to some previous comments as "end of the world scenarios". He liked the Charter and stressed local control and savings - specifically the prevailing wage clause. Stephens is against the Charter. He mentioned that he had, that afternoon, read EVERY charter in Orange County, and referred to section 401 and 103. He also mentioned that one thing our Charter does not have is something EVERY other charter has - the requirement for an annual financial audit. Weitzberg is against THIS Charter and encouraged the potential voters to forget about the current council and this panel and think about future councils and how they might abuse such an open-ended document.
"NO TAX" PLEDGE?
Wyrick then asked if any of the panelists had previously pledged not to raise taxes. Mensinger, Monahan and McCarthy said "yes". The others said "no".
He then asked a convoluted question which the panelists chose to interpret as whether they would shorten the notice process for development. They all said "no". I'm still not sure what the original question was.
Wyrick then asked if any had accepted money from political parties or PACs. All except Monahan said "no". He said "not yet".
Next was a question clearly aimed at Wendy Leece's recent request for a re-hearing of an issue. Wyrick asked how they will handle it when they are on the short end of votes. Each generally said, "move on".
PUBLIC SAFETY CONTRACTS?
Wyrick then asked about negotiating with public safety associations when the contracts are not up for two years. Weitzberg said it doesn't mean we shouldn't be talking with them. He stressed the need to get away from the "climate of uncertainty." Stephens said "a contract is a contract". He then stressed that it's a matter of safety at stake. Monahan emphasized the need to a 2nd tier. Genis said we should negotiate without name-calling and insults. Mensinger evoked chuckles from the audience when he said is "very little politics" involved, then - again - referred to the current lawyer issues. Melone said we have no legal obligation. McCarthy wondered why we don't have a 2nd tier already, then referred to the Private Investigator that tailed Righeimer.
Then we came to the issue of Medical Marijuana. Each of them supported LEGAL Medical Marijuana.
RETAINING KIDS IN COSTA MESA SCHOOLS?
The final question asked the panelists what they would do as a council member to encourage parents to enroll their children in Costa Mesa schools instead of transferring to other districts or private schools. Weitzberg said upgrade academic delivery. Go with our strengths, citing specialized schools. Give the kids a reason to want to go to the CM schools. Stephens, whose children attend catholic schools, said work closely with the new superintendent, Dr. Navarro. Monahan didn't answer the question, stressing that we have "lots of good things in our schools". Genis stressed that she is a product of the Costa Mesa schools and suggested an academic decathlon to build pride in academic accomplishment. Mensinger, stressing that this was near and dear to his heart, said currently about 1,000 children from his Mesa Verde neighborhood attend non-Costa Mesa schools, and mentioned Davis Magnet School as a good example of what can be done. Melone said the parents should do what's best for their kids. McCarthy said the city is only as good as its schools, that it's a "top down process" and praised Sonora School.
In their summations the candidates said the following, paraphrased:
Weitzberg - He's there to provide new leadership and return the power to the residents of Costa Mesa
Stephens - He said he's a good listener. He wants to be the voice for the people. He stressed "I've got your back".
Monahan - He stressed his track record, specifically mentioning his long service. He said the City is at a crossroads and mentioned the Charter, Outsourcing, pensions, the associations and "financial availability", whatever that means.
Genis - She said she will put the residents of the City FIRST. She stressed the need to maintain our neighborhoods to avoid what she called the "circle of blight".
Mensinger - Told us he learned about honesty in politics on the fields. He said that government has lost its way and that he understands how to do things. He said we need to re-prioritize.
Melone - Said he's just not a politician and that he'd be happy to be someone's third choice.
McCarthy - He said he and his family love Costa Mesa for its arts, diversity and uniqueness. He was sorry more time wasn't spent on Finances and encouraged folks to call him. He said, "Come talk to me".
And that was that. I did see a VERY interested observer in the crowd - a man who has had perhaps the most interesting week of his life over the past seven days. Wyrick wrapped up the meeting and folks milled around for another hour, chatting with candidates and friends.
FEET TO THE FIRE NEXT WEEK
Now on to the NEXT forum, on Wednesday, September 5th, when Barbara Venezia and her band of merry Feet To The Fire interrogators will likely not let the candidates off quite as easily. I'll report on that early next week.