Costa Mesa Revives Prospect of June Election on Charter

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After a missed filing deadline made it seem certain that Costa Mesa’s proposed charter would not go to voters before November, city officials announced late Monday plans to pay $154,000 to conduct a separate election on the day of the June primary.

At a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday evening, the Costa Mesa City Council will vote on whether to hire Anaheim-based Martin & Chapman Co. to administer the charter election. In addition to the consulting firm’s fee, taxpayers would also pay an unspecified amount to the Orange County registrar of voters if the council approves the proposal.

Approval is all but assured, given the clear preference by the four-member council majority to place the charter proposal before voters as soon as possible. The charter push is the latest incarnation of the ideologically driven council’s effort to outsource a majority of city services.

City leaders say they need to move forward in June rather than November so the city can save money on road improvements scheduled for summer. The savings, they say, would come because the charter would allow the city to pay workers less than state-mandated prevailing wages.

One high-profile opponent of the council majority called this latest maneuver “a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.”

“It’s going to confuse the voters, and it’s wrong,” said Katrina Foley, a school district trustee and former councilwoman.

If the parallel vote is approved, Costa Mesa voters will have to sign in twice when they go to the polls on election day — once for the regular ballot and again to vote on the charter.

“They’re trying to circumvent the court’s ruling, the rule of law,” Foley said, referring to the recent court decisions on the June election. “Apparently we’re only a rule-of-law city when the rule of law suits a particular City Council’s political ideology.”

City spokesman Bill Lobdell declined to respond to Foley’s rule-of-law accusations.

This new effort comes after two courts denied the city’s request to put the charter proposal on June’s ballot despite missing the filing deadline.

City Clerk Julie Folcik was placed on administrative leave while the city investigates the circumstances surrounding the missed deadline. Community members have said that Folcik is being made a scapegoat for the mishap.

Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said this might be the first privately administered parallel election in Orange County, although it has happened in Los Angeles County and other parts of the state.

Voters would go to the same polling places to vote on the charter and the regular ballot, but Martin & Chapman would provide ballot counting machines for the charter vote and employees to operate them.

A charter is essentially a local constitution that gives a city government greater authority over some local affairs. Under a new state law passed after the city of Bell salary scandal, charter votes must be scheduled for June primary and November general elections.

The city announced Tuesday’s election proposal at about 4:50 p.m. Monday, about 10 minutes before City Hall closed for the day and about 40 minutes before the deadline to notify the public.

Lobdell said the last-minute announcement occurred because the city didn’t know whether the staff report on the issue would be ready.

Asked whether the city could have held the meeting on Wednesday or Thursday to allow residents more time for planning and research, Lobdell acknowledged that possibility, but he said it wouldn’t have mattered in the end.

“There’s no one that follows this who would not know what’s going on,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. at Costa Mesa City Hall, 77 Fair Dr.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/nicholasgerda.

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