Thursday, June 28, 2007

The "Direct Election of Mayor" Stampede Begins

As we head toward the celebration of Independence Day, July 4th, the agenda for the Costa Mesa City Council meeting to be held on Tuesday, July 3rd, became available on the city web site. Of special interest on this particular agenda is the next-to-last item, the debate of whether or not to directly elect the position of mayor at some point in the future. This will certainly provide us with some pre-4th fireworks. I thought it was curious to place such an important issue on the agenda at a meeting almost certain to be sparsely attended because of the holiday. However, former mayor Gary Monahan was very specific about it when he proposed the change.


I scrolled down through the staff report prepared by City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow for the council to consider on Tuesday. That report, which can be reached by clicking here, provides some very interesting food for thought. As usual, Ms. Barlow has provided plenty of information for the council to con
sider. For example, she goes into an exhaustive analysis of the balancing of terms of council members and a mayor, depending on the circumstances of the election which approves the position.

Paraphrasing Ms. Barlow, here are a few pearls gleaned from her report (the emphasis is mine):

1- Ge
nerally, an "elected" mayor has the same powers as an "appointed" mayor. However, an elected mayor, "with the approval of the city council, shall make appointments to boards, commissions and committees unless otherwise specifically provided by statute." This means that an elected mayor selects individuals for appointments, but subject to the City Council's "right to reject mayoral appointments''. These appointments include "regional boards, commissions, and committees" and all "appointments to city council subcommittees." She goes on to tell us that the City Council may withhold approval of an appointment submitted to it by the mayor, but may not dictate to the mayor who the appointee must be. She also tells us an elected Mayor's power extends to the power to appoint members of the City's Planning Commission, but subject to the approval of the City Council. In my mind, that's a lot of power to place in the hands of one individual.

2- The term of such an elected mayor could be two or four years, depending on what the voters choose.

3- On the subject of salary of a directly elected mayor, Ms. Barlow indicates that an elected may
or may receive a salary in addition to the salary established for members of the council. She goes on to tell us that any such additional compensation is unlimited if it is established by the voters. Yikes!

4- On the subject of timing of such an election, Ms. Barlow provides extensive analysis and cost figures. She states that, "The estimated cost for our City to conduce a 'stand-alone election' is about $199,000". Later she further states that, "The cost of a consolidation election is estimated to be about $90,000 to $105,000."

5- There is no budget for a municipal election in the 2007-2008 budget, so an appropriate budget adjustment would have to be made, depending on the type of election anticipated.

If you're interested in the other details of Ms. Barlow's report I invite you to click on the link I provided in the second paragraph of this entry and review it in it's entirety.

I'm left with many questions about this subject but, in my view, the two most important to me are the following:
1 - Why is this change necessary?
2 - How will the direct election of the position of mayor improve the way the city is managed?

I need to be convinced that changing the system that has worked for more than a half century is ess
ential and will make a significant improvement in how things are managed. Former Mayor Gary Monahan mumbled something about this position giving Costa Mesa more stature among the other cities in Orange County. Well, when I look at the list of the six cities in Orange County who have directly elected mayors - Anaheim, Irvine, Garden Grove, Orange, Santa Ana and Westminster - nothing jumps out at me as those cities having any particular elevated stature among the others simply because they directly elect the mayor. Anaheim gets a disproportionate amount of attention because of the recreation venues within it's borders. Irvine has gotten much attention because of it's growth, The Great Boondoggle, er, Park and because it had an egomaniac at the helm as mayor for a long time - the Emperor Agran. Miguel Pulido in Santa Ana is certainly not a good example of why an elected mayor is a great idea.


It's interesting that former Mayor Monahan is the moving force behind this initiative. A cynical gu
y might suspect that he got very comfortable at the municipal trough during his twelve years on the City Council and misses the significant benefits that come with a council position. I'm suspect he wouldn't be pursuing this change if he didn't think he had a lock on the position. And, if memory serves me correctly, didn't Monahan step down from the position of mayor not too long ago because his schedule was too busy? I wonder what's changed.

Not addr
essed in Barlow's missive to the council is the question of a sitting council member running successfully for the office of elected mayor. If a council member with two years remaining on his or her term decides to run for mayor, must he or she abandon that seat first? How would that vacant position be filled? Would another special election be necessary to fill the unexpired term? Would one of the vote-getters from the election be automatically appointed? What about term limits for this position?

At this point, I'm not inclined to think favorably about this change. Even though the council is currently controlled by people I think are taking it in the wrong direction, I don't see how the direct election of the mayor would improve things. Quite the contrary, I see the real opportunity for corruption with such a change.
The opportunities for cronyism and control of the city agenda by one person - a dictator, as it were - makes this a bad idea. And besides, I'm not sure I want to make such a change in this city just to provide health care benefits to a former mayor's brood and to pad his city pension.

This issue is very important to every resident of this city because it will fundamentally change the way the city does business. I suggest those residents with an opinion or questions communicate with the city council and/or present themselves before the council Tuesday night to express their views. I have the impression that the council majority will attempt to stampede this through the process to have it placed on the next state-wide election, the primary in February. To make that happen, even though it's more than a half a year away, many things need to happen fast to meet statutory requirements - see Ms. Barlow's report for the details.

Tuesday's council meeting should make for some very interesting viewing.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sewer Charge Increase Reeks

So, did you overlook the little card from the Costa Mesa Sanitary District you received in your mail this week? I almost did. It came in the same mail delivery with their little newsletter.

This inconspicuous little card announced a public hearing to be held on August 6th at 6:00 P.M. at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center on Park Avenue - beside Lion's Park - the purpose of which is "to consider any protests to the proposed increase in the Sanitary District's sewer collections rates charged at your property and receive comments on the unchanged trash collection rate."

As I looked over this little card I scanned down to the chart which showed the existing rates and the proposed rates and just kind of rocked back in my chair and contemplated the information. The goo
d news is that no increase in the trash fees is being recommended. That's where the good news stops. It seems the good folks who run the Sanitary District think it's necessary to increase the sewer rates by a whopping 50%!

I went to the Sanitary District web site and found the most current financial information - which is two years old, almost to the day. I called the office to get more current information, which brought me 12 months closer. It seems that The District received revenue from sewer charges for the year endin
g June 30, 2006 of $2,279,091, up just under 20% from the previous year. Information for the year just about to end will, apparently, not be available until October!

I guess it behooves us to attend the public hearing in August to find out just why the current leadership of the Sanitary District, including former Costa Mesa Mayor Gary Monahan, feel it's necessary to kick the residents of this city in the teeth with a 50% increase in sewer charges. I understand the need to "notice" the public about this proposed rate increase, but I kind of expected more information about it in their newsletter since it was delivered at the same time. Obviously, the Sanitary District needs to work on their communication skills.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Daily Pilot Blogs and Right Wing Ideologues

Once again we turn our attention to the "wonderful world" of blogmania. Those of you reading this are already attuned to this process and will undoubtedly have an opinion on what follows. As always, I'm interested in your views as long as you don't use the name "Anonymous". My preference is for you to use your own name, but if you can't, then show us your creativity and make up something clever.

This whole blog thing is fascinating, particularly when I consider what's been happening on the Daily Pilot blog over the past few months. As many of your know, I've been a very active participant on that blog. Most of the articles covered by that fine local newspaper are of interest to me and, as a result, I usually have an opinion or two - or three - to share.

The editors of the Daily Pilot have imposed a 100 word limit to each entry, which gave some of us pause until we figured out we can just submit chain entries to complete a thought - or lack thereof. Once we figured this out the dialogue threads tended to present a greater number of carefully crafted views on the issue at hand. Not always, though. There are still plenty of those folks posting comments who seem more than willing to display their ignorance for all to see. Usually, these folks post anonymously by selecting any number of pen names. In fact, it's likely that a few people post under multiple names and end up having debates with themselves.

One very disconcerting element of the Daily Pilot blog is the eagerness with which many anonymous bloggers defame and ridicule others who post their views. It's not unusual at all for the first couple comments posted on any article, column, editorial or commentary to be relevant to the subject of the piece. From that point, though, the comment threads typically devolve into spitting matches, not at all unlike elementary school squabbles. In one recent comment thread of over 100 entries attached to an article about the performance of a couple local schools, fully two thirds of the comments criticized other posters - usually those who attempted to keep the debate on point. There are a few folks who seem to try to keep the debate of issues at a high level despite the jibes and cat-calls by others. As hard as they try to keep the debate on course, the yapping hyenas, whose only goal is ridicule and invective, keep trying to shout them down.

One particularly pathetic fellow - he will likely recognize my description - boldly posts comments using his own name despite the fact that he has a very hard time completing a thought. I guess his anger at his neighbor, a female city council member, clouds his judgment and gives him a brain freeze. He's now transferred some of that anger and frustration to me as he makes feeble efforts to provoke comments from me. Sorry, my friend - you lose. When you dither away saying nothing of relevance it's difficult not to be sorry for you. Just keep it up, though - practice makes perfect or, in your case, mediocre.

Recently, as part of the comment thread dangling from Byron de Arakal's commentary published last Thursday in the Daily Pilot, a person posted a two-part entry that advocated a race war in this country to resolve the issue of illegal aliens. He was quite specific about how his ideas would work - it was a clear, unequivocal, call to war. This kind of comment, in my view, has no place in the online version of a respected newspaper. The editors of the Daily Pilot certainly would not have published his comments as a letter to the editor - why should they publish them online? This person is entitled to his opinion, but he should create his own forum for them - as I did with this blog - if he wants to foment the violent overthrow of our government. I don't know how many comments the editors of the Pilot reject, but those two never should have made the cut. Based on some of the subsequent comments posted, I'm not the only person around here who feels this way.

In another part of town an insidious guy, who very much resembles my theoretical character, Your Neighbor, continues to rant on his own blog. Based on the comments posted on the Daily Pilot, he has many sycophants in this town - those without the mental acuity to develop their own train of thought, so they just read from his songbook. Among those are a couple of our elected "leaders" who seem unable to frame an issue without his specific guidance. They, and others, continue posting entries straight from this guy's far-right wing manifestos. Of interest is the fact that one of his recent blog entries appeared, within a day, almost verbatim in not one, but two far right-wing online sites. This poor guy posted an entry recently whining about attention recently bestowed on him by a Daily Pilot blog commentor and went on denying any kind of influence over our municipal court jester, Mayor Pro Tem Eric Bever, and praised him for the "great Councilperson he has become". Give me a break! Bever is a joke and continues to display his ineptitude and disregard for proper decorum practically every time he opens his mouth.

So, we'll just keep going along, providing a forum for rational debate on important issues and invite those who choose to do so to join us here.

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