A prevailing sentiment during Wednesday's Costa Mesa Charter Committee meeting was that the city's system of awarding public works contracts is sufficient and transparent, but that more first-hand information on that process is needed before any details are proposed for a new city charter.

Although there was some confusion as to the definition of a public-works contract, the committee agreed that it wanted to hear from city staff — namely City Clerk Brenda Green and Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz — during a future meeting about how they deal with contracting procedures.

Some on the 13-member committee asked for clarification of the definition of public-works projects. A city staff report, presented during the meeting, offered that a public work "is defined as the erection, improvement, painting or repair of public buildings and works." It also could be work done in streams, bays, streets and sewers, though not the maintenance or repair of streets or sewers.

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The group also heard the ins and outs of the city's contracting process by its legal counsel, Yolanda Summerhill. In a presentation that lasted more than an hour, she said Costa Mesa adheres to the Uniform Public Construction Cost Accounting Act.

According to the California state controller's office, the program was created in 1983 and provides public agencies some flexibility whereby they do not have to do some formal bids, depending on the amount to be spent. Public works projects that are less than $45,000 can be performed by city employees if they can do them less expensively in-house.

If spending is less than $175,000, the project can be done using a more informal bidding procedure that's authorized by city staff or a city manager. It would not require a city council's approval.

If spending is more than $175,000, a city council must give approval and there is a formal bidding process that involves, among other aspects, publishing a notice in a newspaper or in trade journals that the city is looking for project bids.

A charter for Costa Mesa, Summerhill said, may continue to operate under the guidelines of the act entirely, or pick and choose aspects of it that it wishes to use. A charter city may or may not require paying prevailing wage, the state-mandated rates set by unions and other parties.

The committee members, who next meet Aug. 14, will be looking at other cities' charters and will determine which wording they like concerning the transparency of public-works contracts.