Budget, Fairgrounds, Riggy & Cops
Today's Costa Mesa City Council meeting looks to be fairly routine with the exception of a second closed session item added to the agenda late Monday afternoon. That was yet another discussion of the sale of the Orange County Fair and Event Center. It's curious that this item, the subject of which has gotten much notoriety since the recent Fair Board meeting, should be added at the last minute. Wonder what that's all about?
GENIS REQUESTS REHEARING
One of the agenda items in the open session will be former mayor Sandra Genis' request for a rehearing of the council adoption of a resolution finding that the proposed lease agreement for the Orange County Fair and Event Center to be categorically exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Apparently Genis feels that because the report supporting that eventual vote was not made available until immediately prior to the meeting commencing, interested parties had insufficient time to review and comment. We'll see.
The other item on the closed session agenda deals with the current negotiations with four of our five employee bargaining units. You will recall that at the last council meeting members of the public safety employee union and their supporters and families - including kids in strollers - flooded the council chambers dressed in white t-shirts to show support for their group. It made an impression on at least one council member - Katrina Foley took photos of the crowd from the dais with her cell phone and posted those photos on her Facebook page. I will not be surprised if there is another similar demonstration at this meeting.
TOUGH BUDGET DECISIONS AHEAD
As you likely know, the City of Costa Mesa is in deep guano budget-wise again this year. After slicing and pruning projects and services and, eventually, staffing levels last year the City is left with very little to work with except wages and benefits - or further staffing cuts - in order to make up the remaining $9 million deficit in the 2010/2011 budget.
At this time the negotiations with the employee unions - always a strained process - are reaching critical stages. We hope there will be some kind of a resolution soon.
RIGGY AND THE NEGOTIATIONS
In the meantime, the shadow of the upcoming election looms over those negotiations. Planning Commission Chairman Jim Righeimer has already set the tone for a rancorous campaign battle with the unions by repeatedly stating his opposition to employee wage and benefit plans and implying that he would go after those plans once elected. It is assumed that the public safety organizations will actively campaign against Righeimer until the election November 2nd.
THE PUBLIC CARES ABOUT THIS ISSUE
Which makes Righeimer's encounter with members of the Costa Mesa Police Department at a DUI checkpoint not far from his home last Thursday evening that much more unfortunate. Joe Serna in the Daily Pilot provided us with the only local media coverage of that situation, HERE. When you visit that site you'll find more than 30 comments posted to it, both pro and con, plus nearly half that number posted on my previous entry. It's been many months since any subject has generated so many comments on the Daily Pilot blog.
WAITING FOR THE RECORDINGS
Monday I formally requested that copies of any audio and/or video recordings of Righeimer's encounter with the CMPD be made available for listening. City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow replied to my request by stating that she must first determine what, if any thing, will be subject to release. She promised to get back to me soon. We'll see how that goes.
WHAT IS THE TRUTH?
In the meantime, however, there lingers the fact that the opinions of the CMPD officers involved in the event have a very different recollection than Righeimer does. Hence, there is now an investigation being conducted by the City Attorney.
TELL THE COUNCIL HOW YOU FEEL
I think the City Council meeting Tuesday is a fine place for concerned residents to present their views of this event to the council members. After all, Righeimer was appointed by them and is responsible to them for his actions as a city official - the capacity he apparently felt he was acting within last Thursday evening. Remember, the issue is NOT whether there should have been a DUI checkpoint at that location at that time of the day. That's an entirely separate issue - one that can certainly be addressed with Police Chief Chris Shawkey and City Manager Allan Roeder. The issue here is Righeimer's apparent attempt to use political muscle to have the checkpoint abandoned, including - according to Serna's report - invoking Chief Shawkey's name. If that, indeed, happened - and those recordings will answer that question - then Righeimer clearly stepped well beyond any authority his position as Planning Commission Chairman holds. Now's the time to let our elected leaders know how you feel.
WHAT ARE THE FACTS?
Because the election is only a few weeks away, and because many of us will use absentee ballots to make our selections, we hope City Attorney Kim Barlow will expedite this investigation and report to the public her findings. All of us are entitled to know the true facts of this event and whether or not - as one writer has implied - Righeimer violated the law by interfering with a police officer in the line of duty. We are entitled to know whether Righeimer was just one of more than 3,000 drivers inconvenienced by this checkpoint or - as a couple writers have implied - this was some kind of a grand plot by the CMPD to inconvenience Righeimer. As preposterous as that sounds, a couple people have expressed that view in the last 24 hours.
SPEAK UP NOW
Some will say we should wait for all the facts before we speak up on this issue. Well, time is critical with the election looming. I think we should express our concern for the early release of the facts now, not later. Now is the time to speak up.