Why I Didn't Vote For Jim Righeimer
I apologize in advance for the length of this post. I can't say what needs to be said briefly. Have patience, please. As you know, I sent my absentee ballot in yesterday and it did not include a vote for Jim Righeimer for Costa Mesa City Council. That won't surprise most of you, but I thought I'd share my thoughts on my decision because, on the surface, Righeimer seems like he might be a perfect candidate. Heck, Steve Smith at the Daily Pilot things so! I think old Steve might just have a little man crush on Righeimer.
AN OPPORTUNISTIC CARPETBAGGER
I've written many times referring to Righeimer as a "carpetbagger", because that's exactly what he is. He moved to Costa Mesa from Fountain Valley - a couple miles - in the spring of 2006, just as the election season was commencing. He was, and is, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher's campaign manager, which gave him lots of clout. He and Rohrabacher provided Allan Mansoor lots of support in his re-election run that year.
Shortly after the election it was time to appoint members to the Planning and Parks & Recreation Commissions. Righeimer submitted his application for the Planning Commission after the deadline had passed. When it came time to vote on applicants Mansoor voted not once but three times to reject his loyal foot soldier and fellow Westside Improver, Paul Bunney and chose Righeimer instead. This is the Righeimer who had lived in Costa Mesa only 5 months. It was a clear case of political patronage for the help he'd given Mansoor during his campaign.
A MICRO-MANAGING BULLY
During his tour on the Planning Commission, including his time as Chairman, Righeimer has demonstrated that he's a man of little patience and is more than willing to ignore the rules if he chooses. There simply is not enough space here to recount all those incidents, but I've seen him bully and berate applicants before the commission many times. He also attempts to micro-manage projects that appear before the commission, grilling applicants on issues that are well beyond the purview of the commissions authority.
HE WANTS A RE-FURBISHED "IRVINE"
After watching him in action on the Planning Commission it becomes very clear that he plans to try to re-make our city into a kind of re-furbished Irvine. Of course, most residents of this city choose NOT to live in such a controlled environment - they like Costa Mesa just the way it is, with clean streets, beautiful parks and convenient shopping.
NEVER ELECTED, BUT FREQUENTLY APPOINTED
Jim Righeimer has never been elected to public office before, although his cronies have appointed him to many high ranking jobs. That's kind of how he gets along in life, I guess, depending on the patronage of political allies for positions of authority. Every time he has run for political office he has failed. There are good reasons for that failure.
CAN HE REALLY MANAGE ORGANIZATIONS?
Righeimer has run companies in the past and has created his own companies, too. I really don't know what kind of a business manager he has been, but I do know that the division of SunCal Companies that he headed up went bankrupt. I also know, based on a long conversation I had with him a couple years ago, that he, personally, was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy due to business difficulties, but that he DID NOT file for bankruptcy. Instead, he took nine years to pay off his creditors. I have no reason to disbelieve his version of events. What does bother me, though, is what got him to that point in the first place and, even more important, the fact that some of those creditors were little guys - contractors and the like - who had their own bills to pay. I wonder how many of them faced bankruptcy because Righeimer took nine years to settle up?
CAMPAIGN BROUGHT OUT THE REAL RIGHEIMER
While we're on the subject, this campaign seems to have brought out the worst in Righeimer. Maybe it brought out the REAL Jim Righeimer - I don't know. In any event, at one point he unleashed his pit bull lawyer/brother-in-law, Mark Bucher, who sent a letter to me and members of the Costa Mesa Police Association forbidding us from mentioning three specific issues relative to Righeimer because doing so would, in his mind, constitute defamation of his client/brother-in-law. Those issues were, to quote the letter directly, "claims that Mr. Righeimer has been arrested for being drunk in public, declared bankruptcy, and owned a property whose mortgage was foreclosed."
Well, I have no proof that Righeimer was ever arrested for being drunk in public. If I had proof I guess I'd feel OK about writing about it, especially since his camp has gone after Chris McEvoy with lies about his driving record. I have no knowledge about whether he ever had a home foreclosed or not, but someone may - why else would Bucher make a point of it? If I had proof of such an event I guess I'd feel OK about writing about it because it would demonstrate to us Righeimer's money-management skills. I did write about the bankruptcy issue, as stated above, but that was what I thought was a favorable report from Righeimer's standpoint.
ABRIDGING MY FREE SPEECH RIGHTS
The point here is that Bucher's letter was a preemptive strike against me and others, trying to abridge my rights of free speech guaranteed to all of us by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. An interesting irony here is that within 48 hours of receiving the letter from Bucher Righeimer was mentioning those issues himself on the campaign trail. So, all bets are off. They can't forbid me from talking about those issues, then turn around and talk about them!
MAKING PUBLIC EMPLOYEES HIS ENEMIES
From the very beginning of his campaign it was clear that the Costa Mesa public employees were going to become Righeimer's "illegal aliens" - those folks that Allan Mansoor used to push his campaign forward. From the very first candidate forum that warm night in Mesa Verde - a couple blocks from his home - when he looked the members of the public safety associations present straight in the eye and told the audience that municipal pay and benefits were the problem with our budget and that he was going after them, you knew there was going to be fireworks. The employee associations understood what he was saying and counter-attacked with messages of their own. It has been the nastiest campaign I can recall.
THE DUI CHECKPOINT FIASCO
Then there was the DUI Checkpoint event, in which Righeimer, alone among the other 3,200 other drivers slowed by that checkpoint that evening, who parked in the McDonald's parking lot and strutted over to the officers conducting it to find out what they thought they were doing. I've heard the tape made available to us - many of you have - so we know the words that were spoken. They were unambiguous in my view. He demanded to know why the checkpoint was being held at that location at that time. He wanted to know if he had to talk with Chief (Chris)Shawkey. He demanded a meeting with the officer in charge, and later tried to schedule a meeting with Shawkey and City Manager Allan Roeder to, as he told the press, get to the bottom of it and make sure such things don't happen in the future. He identified himself not as a Costa Mesa resident, but as a planning commissioner. We can only assume he did so to influence the officers by the office he held. The "investigation" of that event conducted by City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow resulted in a quite unsatisfactory explanation - that Righeimer had not "committed a crime" that night. She never did answer the question about whether he abused his authority. Nor did she take into consideration a stack of witness statements presented to her the afternoon of her decision - there was not time, since they went immediately into a meeting. Transparency was not evident in this so-called investigation.
Then came "stink-eyegate". Councilman Eric Bever and his pal, long-time resident and fellow Westside Improver Christan Eric were observed by two Costa Mesa police officers as they placed Righeimer campaign signs on a fence at the intersection of 17th Street and Superior Avenue - on the empty lot that was previously a gas station. Apparently because it appeared to the officers that the fence, and the signs, might be too close to the public right-of-way, they made a total of three passes at the site, including the final one in which they stopped and took cell phone photographs and forwarded them to their supervisor for guidance.
"POLICE INTIMIDATION" PRESS CONFERENCE
Bever and Eric, apparently unnerved by the attention they received from the Costa Mesa police, reported the event to Chief Shawkey and, a couple days later, called a press conference at the site to demand an investigation into what they referred to as " police intimidation" - that the police officers had given them "the stink-eye" - a term I'd not heard since junior high school. Attending this press conference in addition to Bever and Eric were Righeimer, Supervisor John Moorlach, Righeimer lapdog and planning commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick and Mark Bucher - the lawyer/brother-in-law. As he said the word, "intimidation" I watched and he actually did keep a straight face.
EXPENSIVE OUTSIDE INVESTIGATION PENDING
The result of that press conference/demand was that Chief Shawkey hired an independent investigator to look into this issue. The results of that investigation are still pending. Clearly, this was a contrived event, designed to cast the Costa Mesa police in a negative light - as a bunch of out-of-control, over-paid cowboys who deserved to have their compensation cut. The only word that comes to mind is "despicable". Shame on Righeimer and his tacticians for this self-serving attempt to denigrate those men and women who put their lives on the line for all of us every day.
SPREADING THE MC EVOY DUI LIE
Along the campaign trail Righeimer's team apparently realized that young Chris McEvoy - a nearly life-long Costa Mesa resident and high school math teacher in his second campaign, operating the barest of bare-bones campaigns - might actually be a threat. McEvoy seemed to be striking a chord with folks at campaign forums and it had Righeimer worried. Word is that polling had them neck-in-neck as they turned for home in the campaign. So, since McEvoy stood in the way of Righeimer and the big chair on the City Council, they began attacking him with lies about an alleged DUI arrest more than four years ago. In the press via local blogs and on the Daily Pilot comment threads their anonymous attack dogs continued to spread the lie. The truth is, which McEvoy has acknowledged and apologized for, is that he was stopped on SUSPICION of driving under the influence and reckless driving. He took a field sobriety test and asked to take a blood test instead of a breath test at the site. He knew the blood test would be more accurate. The result of that test showed that his blood alcohol level did NOT exceed the legal limit. He left the police station assuming this was a dead issue, only to be informed later by the District Attorney that he was going to be tried for the DUI - even though his blood alcohol level passed the test. He did what many of us would do - he hired a lawyer. The case dragged on and on until, eight months later, he and his lawyer told the court they were ready for trial. The next day the DA asked for a conference, at which Chris, based on his lawyer's advice, plead guilty to reckless driving and the bogus alleged DUI was dropped. He WAS NOT convicted of a DUI, yet Righeimer's minions continue - to this day - spread the lie.
The city is in bad financial condition and has been working on modifications of the employee agreements for most of the summer and fall. Negotiations went back and forth, trying to find a common ground that would help the city financially yet not put the burden of this fiscal distress directly on the backs of the employees. The firefighters presented a plan to modify their contract - they were NOT required to do so, this was completely voluntary - that will save the city well over $600,000 per year. Each month that this agreement would have been delayed would cost the city over $50,000.
BEVER'S OBSTRUCTIONIST MOVES
Since Righeimer's only platform plank was chopping the wage and benefit packages of the public employee groups, having them successfully negotiate agreements with the city before the election undermined his plan. Councilman Eric Bever - the Righeimer campaign supporter in the stink-eye affair - announced from the dais that he was unhappy with the way things were going, so he was boycotting future negotiating sessions with the bargaining units. The only thing that might accomplish would be to slow the process, to push it closer and closer to the election. In fact, he stated publicly that he thought it didn't make any sense to have the outgoing council sign agreements with the bargaining units - the job they were elected to do. He was intentionally obstructing the process, which might have resulted in Righeimer being elected and landing on the council as some kind of a savior to "fix" things.
SIGNED AGREEMENTS FOILED HIS PLANS
However, this plan went out the window when the bargaining units did reach agreement with the city last week and, at a special council meeting, the agreements were approve on a 3-2 vote, with Bever and Mansoor voting NO. Both Mansoor and Bever tried to quash the votes. Wendy Leece laid her political future on the line when she voted with Katrina Foley and Gary Monahan to approve the agreements. If those agreements had been rejected or continued until after the elections it would have cost the city more than $250,000 per month for each month of delay. Bever, in order to lay the groundwork for Righeimer, was willing to cost the city upwards of $500,000.
COMPENSATION REFORM REQUIRES MUNICIPAL BANKRUPTCY
I confirmed with City officials this week that the ONLY way the employee contracts and wage scales can be reduced would be for the City to declare bankruptcy and thereby VOID ALL CITY CONTRACTS, including those of the employee units. This would be cataclysmic for our city. Vallejo, in northern California, tried this in the spring of 2008 and it is still in bankruptcy, with lawsuits dragging out the resolution of their problems. From a purely practical standpoint, if that happened here we would 1) immediately loose many senior staffers to retirement, 2) lose public safety staffers to other cities nearby who had not implemented such a draconian measure, 3) have an extremely difficult time recruiting staffers to replace those departed and 4) the levels of service in our city would drop well below acceptable levels because of inadequate or inexperienced staff. It would be chaos and it would take years - maybe decades - to recover from.
LEECE TO BE GRILLED/PUNISHED?
A quick sidebar... Because of her votes Tuesday evening the Orange County Republican Party has summoned Leece to an Ethics Committee meeting at party headquarters this afternoon to be held accountable TO THEM for her votes. Leece agonized over her decisions, weighing her personal political future against the welfare of our city. Now Righeimer's running buddies of the OC GOP are going to grill her - and probably penalize her - for doing what we elected her to do. It's this kind of arrogance of power that Righeimer and his compatriots in the hierarchy of the OC GOP demonstrate with way too much frequency.
DON'T FALL FOR "BULLET-VOTING" SCAM
Some of Righeimer's supporters are advocating "bullet-voting" to get their guy elected. That is, they want the voters to only use one of their two votes - vote for Righeimer and no other. This, too, is arrogance of power and an attempt to rob the voters of their right to select the two candidates they feel will best serve our city. Don't be fooled by Righeimer's unofficial spokesman, The Mouth From Mesa North over at the CM Press - don't let him fast-talk you into giving up your votes just to perpetuate what he sees as a great opening to "fix" our city. He's been trying this for more than a decade - his first attempt (and failure) was the election of Chris Steel using the same tactics. That was a disaster of a different type, but a disaster, nonetheless. Steel later saw the light and turned his back on The Mouth - which might have cost him re-election. You can think of Righeimer as a cunning Chris Steel - a man smart enough and devious enough to do real damage to our city.
In my opinion, this is what Jim Righeimer would do to our city if given the opportunity. Of course, he really doesn't care about Costa Mesa. He's a carpetbagging, opportunistic political gypsy. He and his pals at the Orange County Republican Party don't give a whit about Costa Mesa. They are intent on, as former mayor Sandra Genis has said, using Costa Mesa as a laboratory experiment for pension reform. They are like locusts - they land in our city, devour everything good and green, then fly off to greener pastures leaving destruction in their wake.
Those are among the many reasons I did not vote for Jim Righeimer for Costa Mesa City Council. Any questions?