A Meeting Beyond Belief!
Tuesday night's brief Costa Mesa City Council meeting was one for the ages. The council chose, thankfully, to move the closed session to the rear of the meeting, so the open session proceeded very shortly after 6:30 p.m. The council had just finished two hours of ethics training with the Parks and Recreation and Planning Commissions, so they looked a little worse for wear. They must have been, because they completely forgot the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag at the beginning of the meeting.
BARLOW'S REPORT - FINALLY
City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow was first up with her long-awaited and much-anticipated report on the Jim Righeimer/DUI Checkpoint incident on September 16, 2010. There was not staff report available to us - or to the council, as I understood it. Here's how that went:
BARLOW'S OPENING STATEMENT
Here is the text of my transcription of Barlow's opening statement. I've deleted the many ums, ahs and uhs for the purpose of brevity.
"I was asked to conduct an investigation into the events that occurred at the DUI checkpoint. I have completed that investigation and it is my conclusion that there was no basis to conclude that Mr. Righeimer engaged in criminal misconduct, although officers at the scene did perceive that they were being directed by Mr. Righeimer to stop the DUI checkpoint. I cannot conclude that Mr. Righeimer intended to misuse his position, although he did introduce himself that way, that is common for public officials to do. He was asked to identify himself. I would be happy to offer the council some alternatives if they are not satisfied with my report. We have been asked to by a number of people to release the report. That is up to the council to determine whether to do. It is your privilege in terms of releasing it. We typically do not release investigative reports without council's approval. In addition if, certainly are many other possibilities. We could refer the matter to outside counsel for evaluation. The matter could be referred to the District Attorney's office, or even to the Attorney General's office if you believe that is necessary. And so, at this point, I am asking for your direction."
WHAT?! COME AGAIN?
Now, I'm confused. She says that Righeimer didn't engage in "criminal misconduct". OK, but is that the only standard we're using here? If he abused his authority, is that a crime? She acknowledged that the officers present "perceived" that Righeimer was directing them to shut down the DUI checkpoint. What do you call THAT behavior? What do you call it when a government official attempts to exercise authority he doesn't have? We heard the tape. We heard him threaten to call the Police Chief. We heard him tell them, "This is not gonna happen anymore." We heard him demand a meeting with one of the officers on the scene the next day. What do you call that - youthful exuberance? As they say on ESPN, "C'mon, man!"
NO STATUTORY SECTION DEFINING THE STANDARD!
Katrina Foley, a lawyer herself, asked what is the statutory section Barlow relied on with regard to the legal standard she used to determine if there was any violation. Barlow replied that there is no statutory section which specifically calls out what the standard is for use of one's title to influence a position. It went south from there.
LEECE WANTED TO "CONTINUE" IT - NOPE!
There was much discussion among the council members about how much information, if anything, to release to the public. During the discussion Wendy Leece indicated that she hadn't read her emails on the subject and moved to continue the item, with Foley seconding. That vote failed, 2-3. The shortest version of events is that Allan Mansoor moved to "receive and file" the report, Gary Monahan seconded it and the motion passed, 3-2, with Leece and Foley voting no. Leece attempted to abstain from voting, citing being unprepared for this issue. She was reminded that unless she can cite a conflict of interest she must vote, so she did - she voted no.
To say I'm disappointed with this outcome is an understatement. What we know now that we didn't know before is that Kim Barlow took Righeimer's version of events over those provided by multiple members of the Costa Mesa Police Department, period. No indication was given by Barlow as to the extent of her investigation - the number of people interviewed, including police officers and any civilian witnesses. No indication was provided to the public about the availability of other recordings of events. She earlier released three, two of which were useless. We are asked to take on faith that Barlow heard testimony sufficient enough to convince her that Righeimer's version of events overrode the reports by multiple officers on the scene - those officers who are trained to manage situations and citizens under stress, as Righeimer obviously was. We're asked to accept that Barlow took Righeimer's version - one that he had a couple weeks to construct - over the real-time, recorded version by multiple police officers.
THERE IS ONLY ONE "TRUTH"
If Righeimer was telling the truth, then the police officers (and the tape recording of the event) were lies. Were any officers disciplined for their transgressions? No? Why not? We, the residents of this city, have a right to know whether officers who have sworn to protect and serve us are a bunch of untrustworthy liars or not. We also have the right to know whether an appointed official, running for elective office in our city, is a man who can be trusted to tell the truth. Without more information we are left to continue to speculate about the events of that evening, with the only "truth" we know being the recorded version of events - and that testimony is crystal clear.
There are many potential satisfactory outcomes of this investigation. This was not one of them. Barlow could have satisfied me if she had provided legal footing for her decision and also provided some numbers - how many tapes, how many witnesses, etc. We need to know why she chose to believe Righeimer over the police officers at the scene. What was it that made his story, concocted well after the event, more viable than the tapes and testimony of the officers?
THIS REEKS OF COVER-UP
Remember, many of us have heard the tape. Barlow's decision, sketchy as it was, doesn't track with what we all heard. Barlow has pronounced herself investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury in this case. Personally, without more information, I think the public has been poorly served by her "investigation" and report. Since the three members of the council who voted to simply receive and file this report - and effectively sweep it under the rug - are close political allies of Jim Righeimer, this has the stench of cover-up all over it. I'm not satisfied and I suspect many members of the public will share my view.
UPHILL FROM HERE? WRONG!
So, I thought to my self, that was a real downer, but the next item on the agenda will be uplifting. It's a proposal by the Costa Mesa Firefighter's Association - a voluntary proposal, by the way - to help the city attempt to weather our current financial storm. The CMFA was not obligated to make any effort to help the city - they have a firm contract. However, they have chosen to work with the city staff for months to hammer out a "side letter" to the current agreement to provide some relief. That relief is $633, 400 in annual savings - at least - for the city. Maybe more, depending on how #7 below works out. You can read the staff report HERE.
In a nutshell, the CMFA side letter includes:
1) Extension of the term of the original MOU from 2013 to 2014.
2) Agreement to suspend the salary adjustment scheduled for September 1, 2011.
3) The City will adjust salaries based upon total compensation effective September 1, 2013.
4) CMFA agreed to meet with the City for the purpose of discussing a reduction of the employee compensation if any other represented employee association is requested to reduce employee compensation or agrees to a reduction of compensation for the 2011-2012 year. (See the report for more details)
5) CFMA employees shall contribute 5% of the employee's PERSable earnings towards their employee retirement contribution beginning October 24, 2010 for 26 pay periods from that point forward.
6) If the City and other Employee Associations mutually agree to suspend the Retirement Health Savings Plan during the term of the agreement, CMFA agrees to apply the 1% employee contribution (that would otherwise have been returned to the employee) towards the employer retirement contribution.
7) The City agrees to request an RFP from the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) for contract fire/emergency services. CMFA agrees to initially fund the cost of the proposal. If the City subsequently contracts with OCFA for services the City agrees to reimburse CMFA half the actual proposal cost. If the City chooses not to contract with OCFA there will be no reimbursement of proposal costs to CMFA.
8) All remaining MOU provisions remain in effect.
GOOD DEAL, RIGHT?
"Wow", I thought to myself, "This is a pretty good deal! The firefighters volunteered to help the city out in a way that works for everyone. Cool. Who could disagree with this?" I was about to find out...
OUT OF THE LITTLE CAR CLIMBS ERIC BEVER
First up was our municipal clown, Eric Bever. You will recall that Bever had sworn to boycott any further negotiations with bargaining units because he wants to shove the negotiations out until after the election so his pal, Righeimer, can get some of the credit for solving the budget if he's elected.
MATH WIZARD HE AIN'T
So, right off the bat Bever begins to try to demonstrate his math wizardry. Now, those of who have watched him over the years understand that he normally uses the other side of his brain - math is not his long suite. Some of us wonder, in fact, if he actually has a long suite, but that's another story.
He begins to chip away, pulling numbers out of the air, trying to add apples and oranges and coming up with kumquats. He eventually gets around to telling us that, even though the firefighters have come up with a plan to save more than $600,000 dollars, it's just not enough! Nope, with his twisted math and even more twisted logic, he decided that they were not ponying up a sufficient percentage - not carrying their weight in the budget distress. He thought they were well over a million dollars short. I looked around the room at the few members of the audience in attendance. There were lots of slack jaws and heads shaking in disbelief.
LET THEM DRIVE JUNK!
Bever was not without a solution, though. He suggested that we gin up a scheme to transfer money from the vehicle deferred maintenance pot to make up the difference, since, according to him, most of that goes to repairing fire fighting equipment anyhow. Unbelievable!
MAJOR FOOT IN MOUTH EVENT
He also made an oblique remark about how the firefighters stepped up, but the other bargaining units had not. Big mistake!
LESSON IN MANNERS FROM GENIS
Much to my delight, Bever got batted around like a shuttlecock in a badminton game by his peers on the dais. But first, former mayor Sandra Genis stood to speak during the public hearing, reminded the council that in her day on the dais this was not how they did things and suggested to Bever that, when someone who is not required to do so offers you a gift, it is customary to graciously say "Thank You", and move on.
ABSENCE DOESN'T MAKE THE HEART GROW FONDER
That was followed by reminders to Bever by three council members - Mayor Mansoor, Mayor Pro Tem Leece and Foley - that if he had attended the meetings he had boycotted he would KNOW what has been going on with the other bargaining units. The discussion got so heated that, at one point, when Mansoor was shouting at him to be quiet because he didn't have the floor, I thought someone might just slap Bever... one can only hope. By the way, it should be pretty easy to tabulate just how many meetings Bever has missed this year. We should run those numbers and bill him for unearned pay.
BEVER AND MANSOOR VOTED "NO"!
After all the discussion and fireworks on the dais the item passed, but only 3-2. Bever and Mansoor voted no. As is always the case, Mansoor could give no reason for voting against this proposal. The only thing one might suspect is that he and Bever are part of a plot to delay employee agreements until after the election, so Righeimer can be part of the process. There can be no other explanation for Mansoor's vote since he didn't give us one.
NOVEMBER 2ND MEETING CANCELED
Finally, they got around to the suggestion of canceling the November 2nd council meeting. There was much discussion about who could or couldn't make alternate dates for the first meeting in November because the regularly-scheduled meeting falls on election day - the Monday before or the Wednesday following were tossed out for consideration but Monahan said he couldn't be there due to prior commitments. So, in order to not cramp anyone's election parties on the 2nd, the meeting was simply canceled. The vote was 3-2, with Foley and Leece voting no.
WHAT ABOUT THE NEGOTIATIONS?
This leads us to more speculation - the employee agreements are still pending. Canceling that meeting just plays right into the Righeimer faction's hands - stretching out the process until the end of November, maybe. We'll see.
All in all, I must say that last night's meeting was among the most frustrating I've seen. We saw transparency in governance take a major hit with Barlow's pathetic report and observed Bever establish a new low-watermark for city council member performance the same evening. He actually made me miss Chris Steel, for goodness sake!
KUDOS TO THE CMFA!
The bright spot of the night was the willingness of the Costa Mesa firefighters to step up to the plate and try to help with our budget dilemma. It's just too bad that some members on the council are too stupid or too stubborn to appreciate it.