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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fair depends on purpose

“Fair” lies in the eye of the beholder. For example, in a schoolyard baseball game, fairly assigning players results in an even distribution of baseball skills. However, fairly choosing members of a task force to develop a new product ensures that the members have requisite skills.

In the schoolyard example “fair” implies that both teams have equal chances to win. In the Task Force “fair” is making sure the team can do its job. Some of us who comment about City government are confusing these concepts of “fairness” in regard to committee memberships.

Not enough girls isn't necessarily unfair 

A comment during an earlier Council meeting pointed out that few women have been chosen for committees. True. However, committees to advise the Council are like task forces; they are selected and organized to accomplish a purpose. They need the requisite skills, which include the ability to work together, the ability to communicate, and specific knowledge or experience. Choosing a committee to have equal numbers of males and females would give us a half-male, half-female committee—no more and no less. It’s hard to imagine a task force with a requirement for equal gender distribution.

Some pundits have argued that the charter committee should be composed of equal numbers of people who voted against and for the charter in the last election. The purpose for this eludes us. If citizens voted against the charter because they saw flaws, and for the charter because they believed the benefits overshadowed the defects, this breakdown could work – depending on the members’ requisite skills.

If, however the folks who voted for the charter did so because they liked Jim Righeimer, and those who voted against it followed the demands of their association (union) leaders, then an even balance should quickly lead to a stalemate. Nothing could be accomplished.

Childish and ineffective

Any division strictly by perceived viewpoints, then, is childish and ineffective:

First, responsible adults decide issues in different ways; and their perspectives can change in seven months. Second, how the person voted doesn't necessarily correlate with their belief system about the City of the Arts. Third, neither their vote nor their present opinion about charters addresses what is important: requisite skills.

Support Council direction

If the charter committee, or any committee, is to fulfill its duties the members must be productive in the direction specified by the Council. In the case of the Charter Committee, the members should be able to solicit and to be open to considering diverse viewpoints, since the charter will ultimately face a vote. Members who still have strong opinions are unlikely to consider other perspectives; their lack of a requisite skill will hinder the committee. That wouldn't be fair to the committee.

Costa Mesa citizens are intelligent and well-educated. An effective Charter Committee can help them become well-informed. Committee members who write a charter for them will have to be pragmatic not prejudiced. Citizens can scrutinize, understand, and support or reject a charter based upon what it says. As responsible adults they will vote for what is best for Costa Mesa.

Don't presume what's best for me 

The definition of an effective Charter Committee shouldn’t include gender mix, political party, or history of supporting or opposing political positions. And it shouldn’t include a “nanny-worry” about members becoming overinvolved as volunteers.

“Appoint only those who haven't been appointed to another committee?” If the committee’s purpose is either to comfort those who weren't selected before or to utilize folks who have a limited interest in growing Costa Mesa, that would be good advice.

Instead, it would seem advantageous to appoint responsible people and trust their ability to control their own time and manage their own affairs. If they are on three committees at their job, coach a Little League team, and hold an office in the PTA should we screen them out of candidacy? Are they less or more likely to fail than a person serving on several City committees?

Select wisely, develop well

If we choose a charter committee that can work together, that can find and analyze the information they need, that can get along with City Council and City staff members, and that have credibility with Costa Mesanswe'll be on our way to productive work. If the members learn to think rationally, debate effectively and compromise and adapt as the charter develops, their work will go faster.

Vocal opposition to the previous charter, antagonism toward the Council majority and inability to self-manage their schedule are all contraindications to appointment. We don't need a committee selected by schoolyard game standards, we do need one selected to get the job done – well.

Schoolyard facilitator selection

At least one pundit is advocating for outside facilitators; “great guys” who don’t come from Costa Mesa, so they'll “have no axe to grind.” Two of the proposed facilitators hold graduate degrees, are active and involved in Costa Mesa’s growth and development, are trained to guide and facilitate productive discussion, and are professionals in leadership and counseling roles.

But, according to one blogger, they might have an axe to grind. Just like a kid with fishing pole might plan to poach fish, or a man on a bike might grab a purse and speed away. The blogger thinks the facilitators might be “prejudiced.”

We believe that the proposed facilitators should be assumed to be responsible, adult professionals until proven otherwise; they can be removed if they fail. Screening them out because they may have prejudices is – prejudice. And childish. And it’s yet another example of bringing schoolyard thinking to important work in our City.
We need adult choices for adult committee members to make adult decisions. Childish and prejudiced assumptions have no place in meeting adult responsibilities.

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