HATCH IN THE BIG CHAIR
At Tuesday's Costa Mesa City Council meeting we got a little taste of what's in store for the residents and the staff in the near future. More on that later. Assistant City Manager (and City Manager-in-waiting) Tom Hatch sat on he dais. City Manager Allan Roeder has apparently removed the training wheels and will help Hatch with the transition to his new job by turning more and more of the day-to-day operations over to him. Sounds good to me... Hatch did a fine job last night.
NEW SEATING CHART
Also, the seating was rearranged to place Steve Mensinger on the far end of the dais, next to Hatch and beside Wendy Leece. Leece previously had been shoved to the far side. Now she sits between Mensinger and Mayor Gary Monahan. To Monahan's right - left as you face the council - is Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, with Eric Bever on his right side, next to City Attorney Kim Barlow. The boys on the dais may exclude Leece from participation with their votes, but at least she won't be physically shoved off to the side.
NEW AGENDA FORMAT
This was the first meeting that followed Monahan's new agenda and it seemed to run smoothly. Monahan read the new "Announcements" segment in which he listed events coming up in our city. I'm still wrestling with the need for this new segment, but it seems harmless enough.
COUNCIL COMMENTS AT THE END
They pushed the Closed Session to the end. Tonight there was no closed session, so we still don't know how that change is actually going to work. They also pushed the Council Member Comments segment to the end and I think we got a glimpse into the future. By the end of the meeting most members of the audience had long-since departed so they missed some pretty interesting stuff.
RIGHEIMER'S HEAVY HAND
For example, Righeimer told his peers that he didn't want to wait for more up-to-date budget numbers before making some changes. He told them that he wanted the city to finish the year as though revenues were going to be flat, wanted an explanation of where the current budget shortfall of around $1.5 million is going to come from and that he also wanted the staff to find $15 million in this fiscal year's budget. He said "No department is sacred". He didn't explain why he wanted to do that, and no vote was taken on it, but this move sure doesn't surprise me at all. Both he and Steve Mensinger gave us a clear indication of how they want to run this city - like it's a private company, where they can call the shots and folks will jump without questioning their directives.
MENSINGER WANTS A "CEO"
Mensinger, for example, told City Attorney Barlow that he wanted to change the title of the City Manager to CEO - Chief Executive Officer. She'll investigate and report back.
Back to the agenda items...
CALPERS CHANGE APPROVED - BEVER VOTED NO
The council did approve New Business #1, which dealt with the authorization of a change in our agreement with CalPERS for the "cost sharing" issue previously negotiated with certain employee groups. This item will save the city slightly over $1 million in this fiscal year and more than $6 million over the next three. This was part of the give and take of the recent negotiations. During the discussion it seemed clear that some members of the council were inclined to NOT approve this based on political dogma. When it came time to vote only Eric Bever voted NO - the other members realized to turn this item down would be simply cutting off our municipal nose to spite our face. Bever's explanation for his vote was that he didn't vote for the agreements in the first place so he wouldn't vote in favor of this item either. What a schmuck!
EMERGENCY ALERT APPROVED - BEVER VOTED NO
After some discussion the council voted to sign the Memorandum of Understanding with the County of Orange for the use of AlertOC, a countywide public mass notification system. Again, bonehead Bever voted NO.
HOMELESS TASK FORCE AUTHORIZED
Perhaps the most interesting discussion of the evening was that about the formation of a Homeless Task Force to address what is a serious and growing problem in our city, primarily around Lions Park. Hatch led the discussion, quantifying the depth of the problem via his staff report.
HOMELESS GUY MOVED TO CM FOR THE GREAT SERVICES!
One of the most interesting moments for me came when a "Mr. Brown" - I didn't catch his first nane - addressed the council and identified himself as being from Elsinore. He apparently moved to Costa Mesa as a self-imposed homeless person because he wanted to see what it was like and our city has such great resources for the homeless! I glanced down the aisle to see the reaction to this statement by a guy I've referred to from time to time who has been a very, very vocal opponent of the social service entities on the Westside of our city, describing them in his blog as magnets for undesirables. When he heard Mr. Brown's statement he rolled his eyes back in his head and I could just see the lede for his next blog entry! This, of course, is an example of the stumbling blocks the Homeless Task Force is going to face as it moves forward.
TASK FORCE MAY BE UNWIELDY
In the end the council agreed to form the Homeless Task Force as defined in the staff report, with representatives from the council, Planning and Parks Commissions, the 3R Committee, social service agencies, members of the community, etc., for a total of 18 members who will form, select leaders and begin assessing the homeless situation in our city and report back to the council in nine months or less. It's a start.
WORKING GROUPS AUTHORIZED
The council then discussed and agreed to form "Working Groups" - two-member sub-committees of council members charged with doing the initial review and solution-finding on several important issues. The Working Groups and their council member assignments are:
WORKING GROUP MEMBERS
Economic Development & Development: Righeimer and Mensinger
Sports & Recreation: Leece and Mensinger
Policies/Procedures & General Plan/Circulation: Bever and Monahan
Budget & Capital Improvements: Monahan and Righeimer
Public Safety & Motel Issues: Bever and Righeimer*
*On this issue it was originally proposed that Bever and Leece be the representatives. The council had agreed to split the Homeless issue from this one due to the formation of the Homeless Task Force. Bever balked at being teamed with Leece and proposed a substitute motion replacing her with Righeimer. Monahan agreed to go along with it, then voted NO, along with Leece. It carried, 3-2.
WATCH THEM LIKE A HAWK!
As I said earlier, it became clear to me during the Council Member Comments segment at the end of the meeting that the new guys on the dais, Righeimer and Mensinger, seem determined to re-invent city government to look more like a corporation - like the ones they've headed up in the past. The problem with that idea is municipal governments have specific rules of conduct that MUST be followed. Those two are going to take a heap of watching in the months ahead. It looks to me as though their tack will be to act first, then apologize later if the have to. It's certainly time to be vigilant.
RIGHEIMER APOLOGIZES, KIND OF
I did enjoy Righeimer being criticized by speakers last night. Both Sandra Genis and Robin Leffler rose to chew him out for mis-quoting Genis during his mini-tirade at the last meeting. To his credit, he kind of apologized to them both later, although it was unclear that he really thought he'd made a mistake. This is going to be fun...
The next council meeting will be on Tuesday, February 1, 2011, followed by a Study Session on February 8, 2011.