Costa Mesa Charter Committee Off And Running
For three hours last night at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) near the Police Station the recently-convened Costa Mesa Charter Committee got to know each other and their facilitators and supporting staff members. Nearly 20 members of the community, including some members of the media and city staff, sat in the cheap seats and observed the process unfold.
The facilitating duo of Dr. Kirk Bauermeister, principal of Estancia High School and a more than half-century resident of the city and Dr. Mike Decker, lead chaplain for the Costa Mesa Police Department who has been in the city about half that time, kept the proceedings on schedule as they made their way through the first agenda, HERE, and helped this fledgling group find its footing for the long journey ahead. Bauermeister emphasized that the facilitators were there to be neutral 3rd parties, not to get involved in the decisions. They were to manage the participation and provide the structure and tools for the committee to use in their process.
Part of the process is getting to know one-another, so Bauermeister led them through an Ice Breaking segment in which they lined up in order of their years in Costa Mesa. The newest member, Kerry McCarthy, has been a resident for 9 years and the most tenured member was Lee Ramos, who has lived in the city since 1947.
Former Costa Mesa City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow is the legal liaison for the group. She used a PowerPoint presentation to provide some context for the group's task, including a definition of just what a Charter is. She also led them through the potential quicksand that is the Ralph M. Brown Act. For most of the residents on the 13-member committee this was uncharted territory, so Barlow took her time and hammered home points on serial meetings, broadcast emails, social networking, texts, blogs and telephone conversations that might turn out to be serial conversations. She left them with the final word - when in doubt, DON'T!
Early-on in the process Harold Weitzberg presented the group with a conundrum. He posited that, based on what he heard Mayor Jim Righeimer say the evening the committee was selected, their task was to first determine IF there should be a City Charter and, if so, then create the one that best meets the needs of the City. He said, based on his understanding, the first thing the committee should be doing is a "needs assessment", basically determining what is "wrong" with the city and will adopting a Charter form of government resolve those issues? Bauermeister explained that it was his understanding that their goal was to craft a charter, period. He did say he would confirm with those who hired him to facilitate this process exactly what their task was to be. The group proceeded with wrapping their collective arms around the "process" and establishing "Norms" - the rules of the road they will follow as they move forward.
HERE'S WHAT THE MAYOR SAID...
It might be helpful for Bauermeister to know the following. During the City Council meeting of June 4, 2013, when the committee members were chosen, just before the final names were pulled from the hat - Weitzberg was the final applicant selected - Righeimer said the following at 03:04:45 on the counter on the streaming video, HERE.
"I want to thank everybody so far whose made it on the committee. These are gonna be the last final people that will be on the committee. I think it's going to be a committee made in heaven for Costa Mesa and to decide whether we want to do a charter or not in the city." That seems pretty clear to me. First "decide whether we want to do a charter or not", then proceed accordingly. That sounds like the marching orders the committee was given that evening.
WORKING THE THUMBS
Bauermeister stressed the importance of arriving at consensus on the issues that they face. He proposed using a "thumbs up", "thumbs down" and "neutral" positions - thumbs level, meaning "I don't support the position, but can live with it." That process evolved over the evening.
WHERE TO FIND INFO ON WEB SITE
City Clerk Brenda Green showed the group how to find relevant information on the city web site. By going to the Home Page and clicking on the link called "Charter Committee" you'll be taken to a page HERE, that contains information and several other links, including one where you can provide feedback to the committee and ask questions.
TWICE A MONTH FOR THE DURATION
This committee will meet the second and fourth Wednesday evening of each month at the same time, 6:00 p.m. at the same place, the EOC, until their task is complete. It may take more than six months to complete it. The next meeting is July 10th.
DEALING WITH PRE-CONCEIVED IDEAS
I came away from this meeting with some opinions - big surprise there, huh? As is usually the case with a group of 13 people, some folks seem to have arrived with some firm opinions on specific issues. Tom Pollitt, for example, brought up "prevailing wage" as a concern of his, even though they are at least one meeting away from beginning to list issues. Last year Pollitt was a strong supporter of Measure V, Jim Righeimer's Charter, the ballot measure that was crushed at the polls, 60%-40%.
Speaking of Measure V, it was not included in the package of information provided to the committee. Once it was brought up several members asked for a copy of it for reference. When it was brought up, Barlow made a little joke that it was "verboten". A community member later took strong exception to that "joke", for which Barlow apologized. The committee was provided with a large notebook with charters from a dozen cities, a primer on Charters and a glossy tome on the Brown Act, plus the staff report from the City Council meeting in April that formed the committee. One member suggested that each read all that information before the next meeting - homework, as it were.
STRONG COMMUNITY INTEREST, AGAIN
Clearly, there is strong interest within the community about this committee and how they will go about fulfilling their assignment. In the audience were members of Costa Mesans For Responsible Government, the diverse group that led the fight against Measure V last year and a couple people that can be described as "pro-labor" - supporters of the building trades. Very few spoke when given the opportunity, though.
AN INVOCATION OR NOT?
An interesting sidebar occurred at the beginning of the meeting. After the Pledge Of Allegiance was conducted, Pollitt asked if he could present an invocation. After a lot of hemming and hawing by Bauermeister and Barlow, Pollitt was permitted to say a short prayer. However, this became the subject of much conversation, trying to decide whether it was appropriate and, if so, how would it be managed. Weitzberg expressed concern, as did Mary Ann O'Connell and, based on my view from those cheap seats, others on the committee had concerns, as well. It should be noted that no other city committee or commission of which I'm aware has an invocation presented at their meetings. In fact, many do not even begin with the pledge since no flag is present in Conference Room 1A, for example. This is a sticky wicket for the leaders of this committee and the staff and facilitators. I'm not suggesting one view or the other. It's VERY likely that this committee may need some divine intervention from time to time, but whether it should come in the form of a formal invocation is an interesting question. (By the way, we're not going to get into a religious discussion on the comment thread. Don't bother submitting them.)
HERE WE GO....
So, off we go. I'm going to try to attend as many meetings of this group as I can over the next few months and will report to you as the process plays out. One thing is sure - it's going to be a VERY interesting few months. Thanks to the members of the Charter Committee and the support staff and facilitators for stepping up for this very important mission. Here is your Charter Team: