Government By Ambush
AN APPROPRIATE TERM
Yep, that's what my friend, David Stiller, calls it. He coined the phrase a few years ago when he thought there was insufficient notification on an issue to be heard by the City Council. Last night's council meeting was the perfect example of what he meant.
SENIOR CENTER CONTRACT
New Business #3 - which the council very kindly moved from the back of the agenda to the front to accommodate the many seniors in the audience - is the agreement between the City and the Costa Mesa Senior Corporation regarding the operation of the Senior Center for another 5 years, plus the possibility of extending the agreement for three more five-year terms.
RESULT OF TASK FORCE
The staff report originally posted online represented the hard work over many months by the special Senior Center Task Force, formed to address the renewal of the contract and some specific issues that had arisen over the past couple years. Mayor Allan Mansoor and Councilman Gary Monahan were on the task force, which also included Senior Center members Arlene Flanagan, Judy Lindsey; Senior Center volunteer Anna Kozma; Chamber of Commerce nominee Patty Mason and community member, former mayor Mary Hornbuckle. Senior Center Executive Director Aviva Goelman and Costa Mesa Recreation Manager Jana Ransom were non-voting members.
ORIGINAL CONTRACT UNANIMOUSLY APPROVED
This task force worked diligently over nearly a year, addressing the boilerplate issues of the official agreement and ancillary issues and, earlier this year, produced the document to be considered last night. That document had already been approved unanimously by the Task Force and the Senior Corporation Board of Directors.
However, at the very last minute - late last Friday night - "someone" requested that an additional paragraph be inserted into section 8, Programs and Services. This addition only appeared in the staff report at that time, with no prior or subsequent notification to the Senior Corporation Board. The additional paragraph reads as follows:
TEXT OF THE ADDITION
"Tenant has the right to reasonably control disruptive behavior at the Senior Center, but recognizes that the Senior Center is a public building and place of public accommodation. Tenant shall not discriminate against qualified users of the Senior Center on the basis of their first amendment protected activities or on the basis of their viewpoint."
In the view of many who read this quick-pitched entry into the previously-approved version, this seemed to be a clear attempt by someone - I suspect Wendy Leece - to usurp the management authority of the Executive Director of the Senior Center and her bosses, the Senior Corporation Board.
ANOTHER MANSOOR SNEAK ATTACK
Then, during the deliberations, Mansoor attempted to slip into the agreement a requirement for the Senior Center to submit to an audit whenever the whim struck the City Council - another item that had not been approved by the Task Force nor the Senior Corporation Board.
"A SOLUTION IN SEARCH OF A PROBLEM"
President of the Senior Corporation Board, Bruce Garlich, addressed both issues. During his presentation he explained that the Task Force had worked for many months on the agreement and the Task Force and the Senior Center Board unanimously approved it as presented. He said the proposed amendment (above) has had no review by the Task Force and seemingly little review by the city staff. He called the timing of it's inclusion "suspicious and disrespectful to the Task Force and the Senior Center staff". He said it was "a solution in search of a problem."
NO RECORD OF FIRST AMENDMENT VIOLATIONS
Garlich went on to say that, "to the best of his knowledge, at no time had the Senior Center staff been made aware of any complaint from any Center user that their first amendment rights had been discriminated against." He explained that, if such an event occurred, there is a protocol to resolve it via the Executive Director and the Senior Board. He reminded the council that, if it chose to include the added language it would be in violation of Section 9 (d) of the agreement, which states in part that "Tenant is and shall act as an independent agency and not as an officer, employee or agent of the City."
NO ADDITIONAL AUDIT NECESSARY
Garlich also objected to the language Mansoor tried to insert during the discussion dealing with an audit. Section 9 (c) provides for an audited financial report requirement, which, in Garlich's view, should be sufficient.
TASK FORCE NEVER CONSIDERED AUDIT
Mansoor was part of the Task Force and, according to sources familiar with their deliberations, the issue of yet another audit - a "forensic audit" - was not discussed nor approved by the Task Force. In fact, there has been no definition of exactly what a "forensic audit" is supposed to be - that was a term tossed out quite casually by Leece during the council meeting. Springing this on the Senior Corporation Board without notice is just another example of "Government By Ambush", and a pretty crappy way to do business.
BEVER WOKE UP A LITTLE
Eric Bever's "contribution" to the discussion was to gripe about there not being any language in the agreement that dealt with what he called "dispute resolution. He said, "Our only option was to say, 'Ok you guys, you're fired'". He asked the City Attorney to provide him with a list of options for the council to consider. That will be considered at a future date.
DELAY MIGHT CREATE BIG FINANCIAL PROBLEMS
The upshot of this debacle was that, because of the requirement for the amended agreement to be, once again, considered by the Senior Corporation Board, there 's a good chance that it might not make it back through the system in time to be approved before the budget is approved to go into effect July 1. If that's the case, no checks may be issued to the Senior Center until the agreement is completed and approved.
PETTY GRIEVANCES CREATED TASK FORCE
I'm not a Senior Center insider and don't have personal knowledge of all the circumstances that led to the launching of the Task Force in the first place. I do know what has been public knowledge. A small band of malcontents - some of whom were not members of the Senior Center - decided that they were not getting their way so went to Leece and griped about it. She, unable to sort important issues from petty grievances that should have been resolved under the roof of the Senior Center, began a witch hunt. As a result, the Task Force was created and did a terrific job of sorting out the issues and making their recommendations.
The blindsiding of the Senior Corporation Board with these items as the council was about to vote on them reeks of petty politics and, as Garlich stated a couple times during his presentation, is disrespectful of the Task Force and the Senior Center management.
BACK TO THE SENIOR BOARD
Fortunately, the council voted to approve the original agreement without the offending language but did add a few words requiring the ability for the City to pay for a "forensic audit" during the term of the contract. This hiccup will now require the entire agreement to be re-considered by the Senior Corporation Board and, depending on how their deliberations go, may delay the final approval of the contract.
INTELLECTUAL AND ETHICAL SHORTCOMINGS
This disregard for the process they established caused more than a few observers to lose confidence in some members of the council. It's a miserable way to do business and demonstrates the intellectual and ethical limitations of some of our elected leaders. It's a shame.