Costa Mesa Charter Ball Is Rolling
After more than three and half hours, I came away from the second meeting of the Costa Mesa Charter Committee last night with a sense of guarded optimism. Let me explain...
Right out of the gate facilitator Kirk Bauermeister cleared the air about the mission of this group. Copies of agendas and minutes of relevant council meetings were included in the packet distributed to the committee. Bauermeister acknowledged that he knew of the comment stated by Mayor Jim Righeimer at the meeting where the committee was selected in which he clearly stated that the committee was to determine whether the city needed a charter or not. I've quoted it twice recently. Bauermeister told the group that he "doesn't take direction from one council member", and affirmed his belief, based on the record of recent council decisions on the subject, that his role is to facilitate the creation of a Charter for the city. I made a mental note for future reference that it's probably a good idea to ignore the mumbles of our mayor most of the time. Member Harold Weitzberg affirmed his continued belief that, as the committee goes about deliberating the value of a charter, it might determine that changing the type of governance may, in fact, not serve the residents of the city better than remaining a General Law city. And the group moved on...
Of the dozen members of the public attending the meeting, four, including former councilman Jay Humphrey, addressed the committee during Public Comments. He expressed concern that the committee consider all aspects of the criteria that will be used to evaluate charter options. Robin Leffler said she was going to wait to see what kind of product the committee produces, but that she hopes it will not propose a Charter to the exclusion of all other options. Charles Mooney expressed concern about the City of Bell - a charter city and encouraged the committee first establish requirements before deciding on a charter. The remaining speaker - a grumpy old fella - identified himself as a "simple guy" who was looking for the charter to provide local control. The guy is anything BUT simple, and he left after saying his piece without bothering to see how the process was going to work. Facts are seldom an issue for him.
NO OFFICERS, YET
Facilitators Bauermeister and Mike Decker led a discussion on whether the group wanted to elect officers - Chairman, Vice Chairman, Time Keeper - as described in the agenda, HERE. After a few minutes it became clear that most wished to continue awhile longer with the facilitators running the show, and voted to consider the issue again two meetings from now. For now Bauermeister and Decker will provide "facilitation" for the group.
BREAKING THE ICE
The group went through another "Ice Breaker" exercise - they paired-up, spent a few minutes getting to know their partner, then introduced them individually to the group. It worked - the group seemed looser following that little exercise.
STARTING THE LIST
They then launched into an exercise designed to help prioritize the issues to be considered by going around the room and allowing each member to present one issue for consideration. Then they went back around for a second choice from each member and, eventually, decided as a group to get all those items the members had compiled as part of their homework exercise up on the boards for discussion. (An aside - the group seems to be settling into their role and reached most decisions through thoughtful, considerate discussion)
WINNOWING IT DOWN
The group generated more than two dozen individual issues they felt should be included as they moved forward. They then winnowed those down by combining those that were, in part, redundant and then used red stickers placed on the sheets with those issues listed to indicate their priorities. The results are shown on the images of those sheets below. As you can see, Public Contracts got the most red stickers and will be the first issue discussed at length beginning at the next meeting on July 24th. This list is NOT the final list, just a start. Members were encouraged to think more about it and add items in the future. Of course, the public is always welcome to contribute their thoughts, too, by communicating with the City Clerk, Brenda Green. She is the focus of all communication for the committee.
While the group has not yet found themselves lining up on one side or the other on issues, there are some clear indications about how this is going to go. For example, "Tea Party Tom" Pollitt, a loyal follower of Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, contributed the need to review "the 15 or 16" problems with the last charter - Jim Righeimer's Charter. It was he who asked to have a copy of that document included in their reference materials along with actual real charters from several other cities. It's likely that he will push to just have that document "fixed" and present it to the council for consideration. We'll see. Later he pushed for a specific timeline for the process, but the group reminded him the objective was to produce a proper document. Hank Panian, the senior member of the group and the only one who has gone through this process before several decades ago, emphasized something he's told the group before - that "this is arduous, difficult, complex work and there's no way to predict how long it's going to take." Bauermeister told the group that the council wanted to measure their progress in 6 months. Pollitt made me smile when he referred to "the minority people" - apparently meaning the folks who may not agree with his view - and hoped they will feel they got a fair hearing. Us vs. them... It's interesting to watch him work because you never know what he's going to say. He's demanding another consideration for his request for an invocation at the beginning of each meeting - an issue that will be discussed by the group next time, following some legal guidance from attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow.
Several members expressed concern about Public Contracts, prevailing wage, etc. Enough did so to place that collection of issues at the top of the heap for discussion.
THAT FOUR-LETTER WORD...
Many members brought up the City of Bell, expressing concern that a Costa Mesa Charter not permit the abuses that happened in Bell. Financial concerns and employee issues - contracts, outsourcing - also ended up high on the list.
KEEPING A POSITIVE THOUGHT
So, the ball is rolling and I'm encouraged by the progress that was made over the past two meetings. The tough part is ahead and, as the specific issues begin to be discussed at length, we'll see just how cohesive they remain. Because Bauermeister and Decker have found their footing, and because the group presently seems comfortable with them providing direction to the process, I'm keeping a positive thought, but understand the politics of this process. There seems to be four or five members firmly in the camp of the current council majority, but we won't know what that means until further down stream. I expect "sides" to coalesce in the weeks to come. That's when we find out how valuable this process will be, and whether the group can work through the different viewpoints and arrive at something resembling consensus.