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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

An inconvenient Civics lesson

Forgotten knowledge

Humans can forget half of their newly learned knowledge in a matter of weeks. For some commenters at the City Council meeting last night, part of what’s been forgotten is Civics.

Costa Mesa enjoys a Representative Government, not a Direct Democratic system like that in New England. There, small villages hold Town Hall meetings every year. Interested citizens participate directly in governance; all voters are, in effect, members of the town’s City Council.

Couldn't do it here 

In a City with north of 110,000 citizens and a $100 million budget, that kind of participation isn’t possible. We'd bog down before we paid our first light bill. And we’d be hard-pressed to set up Town Hall meetings for 110,000 speakers and voters. Only a few matters, such as changing the form of government or raising taxes, are routinely submitted to the voters.

Instead, we elect representatives, our City Council, to govern. Council members, representing us, decide whether it’s in Costa Mesa’s best interest to make a law or fund a program. That’s what we elect them to do. And that’s what we can fire them for not doing.

Change systems to get what I want

One speaker wanted proposals about Fairview Park placed on the ballot so “everyone” could vote on them. Another wanted the issue of raising business license fees placed on the ballot.

Why should representative government revert to a town hall system only for issues of interest to certain speakers? That’s subverting Costa Mesa’s government to pander to the speakers.
One speaker threw down a “false dilemma” gauntlet to the Council. Also called “fallacy of the false alternative” it is a type of reasoning error in which limited or irrelevant alternatives are considered. “Do you trust the citizens enough (to let them vote on this matter)?” is disingenuous.

Law requires that we . . .  

By state law, all taxes must be approved by two-thirds of the governing body (4 of 5 Council members in Costa Mesa), and a simple majority of the voters at a general election. If, after study, the Council does not recommend a tax increase -- with four votes -- the issue doesn't go to the voters. If it does recommend a change the issue goes to ballot. Trust is not at issue.

Whether the speakers are ignorant about our system of government because they forgot their lessons, or are conniving to subvert it, they should be ignored. They have the right to speak. They have the right to make self-serving demands.

But they haven’t earned the right to be taken seriously.

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