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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mixed selection

The Charter study session Tuesday evening was a demonstration of rudeness, unruliness, failure to read the material before speaking, routine and expected commentary, and finally a demonstration of an honorable man, who happens to also be a politician. It also was well-run. Costa Mesa is fortunate to have a thoughtful, thinking, and effective City Council.

The complainers complained

We heard only talk, no song, from a frequent complainer. He hasn't honored the council with his wit for a while. He carefully worded his name-calling but got in some obnoxious innuendos. He was called on it by another speaker and by a Council member.

He further demonstrated his lack of manners by yelling at the Council members from the audience. Mayor Pro Tem Mensinger told him they’d talk privately at another time. Decorum at a Council study session?

Wow. Mayor Righeimer and his Council are changing the game. Imagine speakers addressing the Council and each other with manners. Kudos to the Council and especially to the Mayor.

If we define leadership as “inspiring willing and enthusiastic cooperation in the accomplishment of a goal” then the Council – and the citizenry -- have been lead well, very well. The habitually-unruly folks’ mothers didn't imprint decorum, but the new council – and the other speakers -- will.

Same opinion, different date 

Some of the speakers regurgitated their usual opinions, those they have expressed unchanged since early in the last election. Their opinions haven’t changed, but the name-calling, belittling, and labeling has markedly diminished. Some of the speakers, though, were well-informed, refined and passionate.

A few speakers and a Council member wanted any charter studies postponed while essential information was studied and developed. One speaker even volunteered to perform the studies himself. Much of the information they demanded appeared in the staff report that was available on the back table for anyone interested. And, some of the projections they demanded are impossible to develop without a specific charter to evaluate.

The intriguing question was, “we don’t know what benefits a charter would offer Costa Mesa.” Some wanted a list, some wanted quantification of dollar value. I wonder if the early American Colonists had to face that kind of inquiry. Imagine:

Back in 1775. . . 

“Yes, yes, I know the taxes are bad. And we don’t have anyone looking out for our interests back in Parliament. But is there a dollar value for the taxes we’ll actually save? I think we’d better study this some more . . . We need to hold an election to select some people to study whether we should write a letter to the King or not.  Oh, no, now we’re in for it. Some fools threw all that British tea into the ocean and now . . . What does a lantern in the Old North Tower mean?”

Not sophisticated or knowledgeable 

Folks asking what the Charter will do are displaying naiveté. Or they may be using Alinsky manipulation to obscure the question. The opinion of educated politicians, legal scholars and involved citizens pretty much coincides on the issue of the value of charters; a charter can put local matters under the control of local people. The individual parts are written to guide the development of city law and procedure.

So the question, “What one thing will a charter do for us?" is specious. It will do whatever its provisions specify it will do.

Thus the idea of studying the effects and costs of a charter, before a charter is written, is silly. It might generate some income for whoever is hired to study it, but the effects and costs can’t be determined until a charter is available to evaluate.

Once a charter is drafted, it can be analyzed (and certainly will be, given the City’s penchant for transparency). It can be modified, debated, tuned, re-tuned, and adjusted. Once the rough edges are smoothed, the populace in general can have at it – hopefully from well-informed positions.
Then, and only then, we’ll know what the charter will probably do for us, and what the costs are likely to be. That’s the time to decide if we want a charter on the ballot. And that decision can be made by the City Council or by a petition by voters.

Make it a workable guide 

The attorney presenting information to the Council warned that a charter should be as general as possible to avoid holding frequent elections to keep adjusting things. One speaker noted that a neighboring city offers changes to its charter about every election year. Heeding the warning could save Costa Mesa a lot of time and money.

For example, say the charter specified that financial matters conform to accepted accounting standards. When the recommended independent audit frequency changed, the City staff would change its audit schedule to that frequency. 

If the audit interval were specified in the charter, then the frequency change would have to be submitted to voters. This would add the expense of the election, and the time required to send the matter to the electorate, to the process. In either case the final audit frequency would be that specified by public accounting boards that specialize in governmental matters.

Mayor is admirable

Mayor Jim Righeimer stated that he had erred in the way he pushed for the charter last fall, had learned a “hard lesson” and was now working to apply that lesson. He wanted the charter then to help his City remain solvent and grow, and he wants it now for the same reason.

He said he erred! That is unusual for a politician; it’s not too unusual for a statesman. It’s normal for an honorable man. On that basis alone, we've elected an impressive Mayor. The time control of Council meetings and the increased decorum in debate show that he’s a good leader as well.

We've got a good City Council

We believe that Costa Mesa has an exemplary elected government. Council members don’t agree with each other, and this blog has disagreed with every one of the Council members within the past two months. But the debate, on the dais and off, has been honorable. Good people can disagree and remain good people.

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