Thursday, March 13, 2014

Charter Committee Wraps It Up!

Last night the Costa Mesa Charter Committee used an extended meeting - four hours! - to wrap up their final version of the document they've spent the best part of a year cobbling together.  And this meeting, which should have been a walk in the park, still ended up with some high drama before it was all over.

Most of the committee members attended this meeting, which began at 5:00 p.m., and finally wrapped up shortly after 9:00 p.m.  Only MaryAnn O'Connell and William Fancher were absent.  Both facilitators - Dr. Kirk Bauermeister and Dr. Mike Decker - both lawyers - Kimberly Hall Barlow and Yolanda Summerhill - and both staff members - City Clerk Brenda Green and Intern Sawyer Pendleton all were present.  A handful of residents also attended - a smaller group than normal, which dwindled as the meeting dragged on.  There were two of us and one lonely Daily Pilot reporter left at the end from the high of about 10 earlier.  (Ramos & Eckles shown)
Language for the Charter had been hammered out as the deliberations went along over the past many, many months, so the plan last night was to fine-tune it for presentation to the City Council on March 18th.  "Fine tuning" in this case included adding major segments from scratch in some cases and completely removing one section that had taken parts of three meetings to create last year. (Panian, Ramos & Bauermeister)
The end result will be a short document - six or seven pages, depending on how it is formatted - that seems to not significantly change anything.  Almost every element included in the document is possible to accomplish under the current General Law rules that govern our city.  For that reason, this effort has been a colossal waste of time and resources.

Don't get me wrong... the Charter Committee did a good job.  They all worked hard, did their homework, remained mostly civil to one another and clearly found unanticipated respect and admiration for fellow members of the committee.  They flogged controversial issues into submission throughout this process, trying to find common ground and, when that was not possible, working on language that will pass muster with the voters. (Bauermeister shown here)

In that regard, the language included a segment regarding Council Member Salaries - the issue that was discussed at length over several meetings.  I reported at the time that they finally decided that each council member should receive a monthly stipend of $2,100 per month, and that any other optional benefits - health insurance, for example - would be deducted from that amount.  Currently each council member earns $904.40 per month and also receive health care benefits ranging from zero to a couple thousand dollars each month. (Shown here, Kevin Tobin with Ron Amburgey)

However, as the discussion worked its way to this issue last night, committee member Andrew Smith (shown here with Amburgery and Ramos) balked.  After all that hard work and negotiation among the members previously, he feared that the voters would only see it as a move to double the council's salaries and that, alone, would drive a stake in the heart of the Charter.  Back and forth the discussion went and, eventually, the committee agreed with Smith and the language will be amended to indicate that the council will receive salaries consistent with state law.  As a sidebar - if they had NOT included specific language regarding salaries it would theoretically been possible for a future council to pay themselves big bucks - as in City of Bell big bucks - because the Charter language is such that if something is NOT specifically mentioned the council can pretty much do what they wish.  That's something to remember.

Member Gene Hutchins - a nice guy (shown here with Tobin and Bauermeister) - had another of his Unfunded Pension Liability meltdowns.  Even though committee members are supposed to present new ideas or expansion of old ones by the Friday before their Wednesday meetings, Hutchins has consistently - and frustratingly - brought what he thought was significant information to the committee the NIGHT of the meeting.  Last night - their last night - was no exception and things got just a little heated as he just would not take no for an answer.  As had been the case throughout this process, every time the subject of Unfunded Liabilities was mentioned he practically launched from his chair, eager to get into the discussion.  He's also a member of the Pension Oversight Committee and, apparently, has enlisted that entire group to help him craft language for the Charter on Pensions.  Keep in mind that the Pension segment had already been put to bed at a previous meeting.  This time, though, he brought several NEW segments he insisted were crucial for the Charter.  In the end his ideas failed to gain support from the committee.

Eventually the final document, which received so much manipulation last night that I just couldn't keep up with all the language alterations, will be completed by the legal staff and presented to the council next week. (Tom Pollitt and Tom Graham Shown)

The document includes a three-paragraph preamble and eight (8) articles.  This is what the Table of Contents will look like:
 Article 1.     Incorporation and Powers
             Section 100.  Name of City
             Section 102.  Boundaries
             Section 104.  Powers

Article 2.     Form of Government
             Section 200.  Form of Government and Powers
             Section 202.  Administrative Officers

Article 3.     Elective Officers
             Section 300.  Terms
             Section 302.  Presiding Officer
             Section 304.  Council Member Salary
             Section 306.  Incompatible Offices

Article 4.     Elections
             Section 400.  Elections
             Section 402.  Initiative, Referendum, Recall

Article 5.     Finance
            Section 500.  Budget Reserves

Article 6.    Personnel
            Section 600.  Retirement Benefits
            Section 602.  Civic Openness In Negotiations

Article 7.    Public Contracting
            Section 700.  Public Contracting
            Section 702.  Prevailing Wages
Article 8.   Miscellaneous
             Section 800.  Charter Review
             Section 802.  Outsourcing
             Section 804.  General Plan Consistency
             Section 806.  Construction and Interpretation
             Section 808.  Severability

I'm not going to begin to try to give you all the language because there are segments that need to be burnished by the legal staff based on last night's activities.  Nor can I give you the final version of the Preamble for the same reason.

The committee also will present to the council a short list of things NOT included in their document, but that the council may wish to consider.  Those are:
  • Community Outreach
  • Establishment of a Citizen's Academy
  • Consider a specific percentage of a budget surplus earmarked for reserves
  • Current Council Members to cease "participation" in Pension Plan
  • Adoption of a Private Pension Plan for new hires
  • Use of Certificates of Participation to pay down liabilities
Here's the tentative schedule of events as this process moves downstream.
  • March 18, 2014 - Charter document presented to the City Council at regular City Council Meeting
  • April 15, 2014 - 1st Public Hearing (regular City Council Meeting)
  • May 20, 2014 - 2nd Public Hearing (regular City Council Meeting)
  • June 17, 2014 - City Council to vote whether to place on ballot in November (regular City Council meeting)
Keep in mind, the deadline for placement on the November ballot is August 8, 2014, so the council has plenty of time for manipulation of this document and to hold workshops, town halls and whatever other form of community outreach they feel is important to sell this document to the voters.  There's also plenty of time to tinker with the document to satisfy personal objectives.

Last night, as the committee met for what will likely be the final time as a group except for the reception that will be held for them immediately preceding the March 18th council meeting, they went around the table to share their thoughts on the experience.  Some of the comments were quite moving and obviously very sincere.  Member Hank Panian's (shown here with Harold Weitzberg) comments were particularly moving.  He was on the original charter commission back in the 1970s.  He spoke of having been part of the group that founded what is now Mesa Water District back in 1960 and he helped create the Newport-Mesa Unified School District also during that decade.  He said he was grateful because through this committee he, "Finally have a chance to help shape the future of the city."  The common thread through them all was that each one learned a lot during this process, gained new respect for individuals and the staff and were uniformly glad they participated.  Congratulations to them, the facilitators and staff for all the work they did.

Now we see what happens with this work product.  We'll see if the council decides to add items to it or make changes at all.  The next couple months will be very interesting.

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