By Charles Mooney – January 9, 2012
So what is so worrisome about the Costa Mesa City Charter that Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer proposed about midnight at the Dec. 6 City Council meeting with few citizens left in attendance to comment?
The charter is written by one councilman for the benefit of giving nearly unlimited, and sometimes questionable, power to the council, which I illustrate below. Further charter input is being received via the city website or at a council meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday; however, there is no way to know if that input will really be considered because there is no opportunity for dialogue. The process could be improved by an elected charter commission (ECC) that could analyze, review, discuss and revise a proposed charter.
Setting aside voting and zoning concerns, let’s look at some other worrisome portions of a few sections from the proposed charter, pulled from the city’s website.
… General powers of the city include, but are not limited to, the powers necessary ….”
To rein in out-of-bounds power, the issue would have to go to court or through the initiative process, which requires several thousand signatures. Who has the financial backing to do this?
Purchasing and Contracts
A couple of examples follow:
“Annually, the City Council shall set a value at which Public Works contracts shall be exempt from public bidding … “
The council could abuse this power to grant no-bid contracts.
“No city Public Works contract or other public contract shall require payment of the prevailing wage …”
Wages are about 20% to 30% of construction project costs, according to the Smart Cities Prevail website. To save 20% overall on these projects, as has been implied by speakers in favor of Righeimer’s charter, the wage rate might have to be reduced to almost minimum wage.
An ECC could assess the potential savings or lack thereof.
Voluntary Municipal Employee Political Contributions
“Unless otherwise required by law, a city employee labor union, city contractor or city employer (‘Organization’) may only make expenditures for political activities if … “
This is just an attempt to bias the political process and should not be in our charter.
Construction and Interpretation
“The language contained in this charter is intended to be permissive rather than exclusive or limiting … with respect to any matter which is considered a ‘municipal affair.'”
This means that the charter can mean just about anything whether it is written in the charter or not, if it is considered a “municipal affair.”
Amendment to Charter, Revised or Repealed
“… Amendment or repeal may be proposed by initiative or by the governing body.”
This means that a citizen-sponsored amendment will be harder because it must go through the initiative process. Also, there is no mention of a charter revision commission.
So here we have Righeimer who has handled the layoffs in an un-business-like manner, which has left some of us with little confidence in him and the majority on the council (I voted for Righeimer), proposing a city charter be quickly written without a commission, and taking on the risks of future litigation.
The council majority said it wanted to run the city like a business. Who would sign a business contract that says that the contract is not limited to what is said in it? And what is said in it is not meant to be limiting? And that there is little to no practical recourse for citizens if they don’t like what is being done? I know that I wouldn’t.
None of these actions are the kind of business contract-making and management that I am used to.
If we have to have a charter, let’s tell the council we want it to describe specific powers and be drafted by a commission.
Charles Mooney is a Costa Mesa resident.