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Community Commentary: Council majority wants to pull wool over our eyes

The Costa Mesa City Council's proposed charter amendment is just another attempt to force its self-interested political agenda on the city. If there is anything we have learned since the council first attempted to lay off half the city's employees, it's that the council majority will do anything, and say anything, to advance its political agenda. Now we see the next phase includes a deeper and more problematic threat to our community than the last scheme did.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and his cronies on the council want to rewrite the city's laws so they can make an unchecked end-run to grab more power and put their political agenda ahead of the community's priorities.

Nearly a year ago, the same council majority told us that the city was going to be bankrupt if they didn't lay off more than half the workforce — even though they had never studied whether outsourcing would save money or how it could adversely impact the quality of our parks, roads and emergency services.

In the months since, they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on no-bid contracts for consultants and spokespeople to sell their made-up story to the public. They gave an unlimited contract to one of the most expensive law firms in the nation to defend their scheme after city employees pointed out that layoffs are not even legal. And they repeatedly ignored factual information presented by residents, employees and an independent government auditor that the city is nowhere near insolvency.

Then, in December, their big lie was uncovered when the city announced that it will be finishing the year with a $3.8-million budget surplus instead of a $1.4-million projected deficit. This proved that they were simply manipulating the numbers to make a phony political point about budget troubles.

We had been telling them all along there was money in the budget and they didn't have to lay off half the city's workforce. They even had enough to go on a no-bid city contract shopping spree and still came out more than $5 million ahead of their misleading projections.

Why? Not because of anything this council did.

The difference came from increased sales tax revenue, a ballot measure approved by voters and pension reforms offered up by employees and negotiated before this council ever took office.

Still, they are continuing full steam ahead with their politically motivated plans to gain the power to lay off half the city's workers after being rebuked by the people of the community and the courts — this time by rewriting the rules to change Costa Mesa from a general law city into a charter city.

Righeimer and Councilman Steve Mensinger have been humiliated by their inability to outsource the entire city, so now they want to rewrite the rules to their advantage so they can do whatever they want with our city services and without any checks and balances.

Righeimer's charter city scheme is just a continuation of his failed outsourcing agenda. He came up with his charter idea with zero public input, and he made sure he introduced it after midnight during the late hours of a council meeting in hopes of minimizing community input. Now, he has chosen to limit public participation and wants to rush through the public input process so he can put his ready-made plan on the June ballot — when fewer voters are likely to turn out.

Allowing Righeimer and Mensinger to rewrite the long-standing and tested laws of Costa Mesa to suit their political agenda would be disastrous.

The council had an opportunity to choose a path to work collaboratively with residents on their charter proposal. As local resident Geoff West, a Republican, recently pointed out, good government experts advocate for allowing a 15-member charter commission — elected by residents — to create the city's new rules.

But Righeimer and his yes men on the council are ignoring those recommendations so they can jam through the politically motivated rules they want — all in time for a June election they think they can manipulate just like they tried to do with their failed outsourcing scheme.

Why the rush? What's the benefit of dismantling a solid 60-year history of responsible city government, and then use a "cut and paste" charter cobbled together by one man in a manner of weeks? After Jan. 10, nothing else may be added to the charter. No provisions or protections to ensure an open governance process against what I believe to be illegal two-person ad hoc subcommittees, no provisions to include ex parte language to remove conflict of interests, no restrictions on rushed through no-bid contracts, no provisions on acceptably mandated service levels this community pays for and deserves.

It's not what's in this charter that will lead to city of Bell-like abuses, it what's not written in this charter. Rushing into this without proper study and resident commissions, will open up avenues for abuses and corruption that will plague this city for decades to come, just like the unstudied and hurried layoffs.

As a longtime Costa Mesa resident, I would strongly urge the council majority to consider a more collaborative and constructive approach. Listen to the public, work with your employees, begin to seriously address the future economic needs of the city.

Because just like outsourcing, this charter proposal is nothing but another scam to rewrite the rules to their advantage. And we all see right through it.

GREG RIDGE is a member of the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society and a Costa Mesa resident.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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