Second Charter Hearing: A Clearer Interpretation

by Charles Mooney, Vice-President, Costa Mesans for Responsible Government

I read Joseph Serna’s article “Charter Interpretation Discussed at Public Hearing” and here offer my own interpretation of the hearing.

Mayor Eric Bever tasked Special Counsel Kimberly Hall Barlow with straightening the record on rumors about the charter.

My interpretation of the hearing is that Mayor Bever may have really meant for Barlow to clear up misconceptions about the charter, but what she actually did was spin a yarn about the charter that would make it sound good and to give the appearance of an objective review of it.

Barlow could hardly be considered objective because she is working for her client the city council of Costa Mesa through her firm Jones Mayer which is the same firm that provides the city’s attorney, Tom Duarte.  Accordingly, her unwritten goal is to make sure her client looks good.

If the council wanted to manage the city in a businesslike manner, as they continually claim they want, and objectively review the charter (product), they could conduct an organized critical design review like many businesses do before they release a new product.  They would ask truly independent reviewers to examine every aspect of the charter to determine if it meets the needs of the citizens and the city and is good quality.  This is how the professionals do it, but it is unclear that the council will take this approach.

As part of Barlow’s spin of the charter, she said “I don’t see anything in here that changes the fundamental right of the people to …..”  She avoided the key concern that has been raised to the council numerous times.  And that concern is with what is not written in the charter because it is so lacking in detail.  So naturally, she could say “I don’t see anything….” because it wasn’t there.

Barlow did not relieve the concern that citizens have about losing the protection of the many state laws that have worked well for Costa Mesa for about 60 years.

Regarding Barlow’s comment about no bid contracts, unless the proposed charter has changed, there is no $175,000 limit for a no bid contract (Section 400 c).  We need to be very careful about knowing what is actually in the charter versus what they say is in the charter.

Lastly, in response to Councilwomen Leece’s concern about the charter’s vaguely written General Powers Section, Barlow said, trying to make the charter sound appealing, that the language was similar to the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which leaves powers in the hands of the state and people that are not specifically enumerated for the federal government.  But Barlow should have repeatedly clarified that this means that a 3 councilmen majority, not the people, would have very broad powers.

Barlow didn’t appreciate that this is exactly what is so unacceptable about the charter.  The proposed charter grants too much power to too few. Many, if not most, of the residents do not trust the current majority city council and do not want to give them more power.

Consider this, if the charter had been written by a committee of citizens, critically reviewed and was a good quality product; the council wouldn’t need to be spinning a yarn to support it.

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