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Daily Pilot

Commentary: Smith ignores inherent risk of charter

By Charles Mooney

8:35 PM PDT, October 8, 2012

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Re. "Smith: Mensinger earned his council appointment" (Oct. 3):

I read Steve Smith's column and would like to comment on his statement that the proposed charter is reversible and that if it's approved — and it turns out to be a bad idea — it can be eliminated by another vote of the people.

Let's look a little more closely at the consequences of Mr. Smith's idea.

Consider this hypothetical: The charter allows for unlimited no-bid contracts, so soon after the charter is approved, the council sets the limit on contracts that are exempt from bidding at $10 million. Without a bid, they agree to a 13-year $9.9-million contract with Dewey, Cheatum and How Inc. for copy-machine maintenance.

The public discovers this and is outraged by this 13-year, multimillion-dollar no-bid contract and wants to repeal the charter as a result. Councilman Steve Mensinger then reveals that even if the voters repeal the charter, that all contracts, particularly the one with Dewey, Cheatum and How Inc., will continue until the end of the contract period because the company has refused to renegotiate its very lucrative deal.

The public still wants to repeal the charter, so rather than waiting the 10 years for the council to establish a charter commission, as the charter says, they decide to repeal the charter using the initiative process.

However, the citizens find out that rather than needing the signatures of just 10% (5,800) of Costa Mesa's registered voters for their initiative to get on the ballot, they need 15% (8,700) because they are a charter city now.

The citizens remain determined, and after several months of hard work, they gather the 8,700 signatures and submit them to the City Council so that the repeal can be voted on in the next election.

Unfortunately, the council decides that it wouldn't be a good idea to put the initiative on the ballot for the next election that is a few months away. Instead, using the example set by charter city Huntington Beach, the council decides that the initiative should go on the ballot for the election more than a year away.

Delaying the vote now gives the council more time to enter into more contracts that can't be reversed even if the charter is repealed.

So, Mr. Smith, there are serious consequences to passing this flawed charter now and thinking there would be little harm done before the difficult task of repealing it could be accomplished.

It would be far better for the city to improve the charter before approving it. Until this happens, the only responsible thing to do is to oppose the proposed charter by voting No on Measure V in the November election.

CHARLES MOONEY lives in Costa Mesa.