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Daily Pilot

Harlan: Vote shows a need for compromise

By Jeffrey Harlan

5:18 PM PST, November 10, 2012

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In baseball, it's called a full count. In Costa Mesa, it's the presumed 3-2 City Council split after Tuesday's election — although we're not sure whether we'll have a new majority, or whether the current one will barely maintain its hold. As of Saturday, only 190 votes separated incumbent Gary Monahan and attorney John Stephens (disclosure: he's friend of mine) for the third seat.

It's also the proportion of Costa Mesa voters who cast their ballots against the city charter proposal. Measure V was soundly defeated, 17,771 to 12,062, as of Saturday.

In many ways, a 3-2 voting bloc captures the tension inherent in Costa Mesa. We may be divided on some issues, but we're not a divisive community. We can reasonably determine what's best for the community as a whole — decisively rejecting Measure V is evidence of that — but still express our individual and personal preferences, as reflected in the mixed vote for council.

This election demonstrated pretty clearly that no one candidate (or party, as the Orange County GOP had hoped) has a mandate in Costa Mesa. There was no sweep by one slate, no landslide for one candidate, and no desire to radically change our method of governance. After election day, nothing was definitively settled; our council still faces the same issues with the same tools at its disposal, and the community is still cautiously alert.

How do we, as a community, move forward now?

Learn to compromise. That is the word we need to introduce into our civic vocabulary.

With a compromising mindset, our elected officials can work toward achieving a consensus on the serious issues that we face. They should use their principles as guideposts, not obstacles, toward compromise and respect their colleagues who offer differing opinions.

To some, especially ideologues, compromise is a dirty word. It suggests weakness, indifference or capitulation. But that rigid posture is exactly the kind of thinking that prevents effective governance.

In actuality, a good compromise not only can improve circumstances for our community, but also strengthen relationships and build trust among our elected officials, city staff and general public.

If anything, Tuesday's election confirmed that we need a new approach to solving our community's problems and dealing with a vigilant citizenry. More of the same tack will only deepen wounds and unnecessarily polarize our community.

Like a batter facing a full count, our council needs to be prepared to adjust to whatever pitch is thrown its way. This kind of flexibility and openness allows for good compromises to improve the status quo. Regardless of who is in the majority, successfully governing a diverse community such as ours requires more cooperation, tolerance and patience from our council members.

In order to govern in the best interests of Costa Mesans, all of our council members need to quietly tuck away their campaign rhetoric and get started on the real business at hand. Like the rest of us, I don't want to hear anymore editorializing about unions, outside special interests, excessive employee compensation, benefits or pensions. I don't want to listen to a never-ending stream of excuses, rationalizations and blame.

I want to see clear, deliberate and thoughtful action that shows the rest of Orange County how Costa Mesa, despite our differences, is capable of actually solving our problems and repairing our community. What other option do we have?

JEFFREY HARLAN is an urban planner who lives on the Eastside of Costa Mesa.