Eagle Shot Down - And That's Not All
To the surprise of nobody in the auditorium, last night the Costa Mesa City Council voted, 4-1(Wendy Leece voted NO), to dissolve the Airborne Law Enforcement Program (ABLE) despite broad public support for the program and the presentation by Commander Tim Starn which outlined several alternatives to grounding the helicopters.
"GHETTO BIRD" GRIPES MIXED WITH KUDOS
Before a crowd of more than 100 concerned residents the council listened patiently as eighteen of their number presented their views. Most spoke with passion in favor of ABLE, describing personal anecdotes, quantifying the value of the helicopters, quoting statistics and expressing fear for their safety should ABLE be folded up. A few spoke in favor of ending ABLE, citing the noise created by the "Ghetto Bird" as it flew over their mostly Westside neighborhoods. I found myself smiling because it's very likely they will be among those to first suffer from the absence of the helicopter program.
POTENTIAL CHOPPING BLOCK VICTIMS INTRODUCED
Officer Jason Chamness, the new President of the Costa Mesa Police Association, introduced the four officers who would be cut loose if ABLE is shut down. Each were highly trained men, all of whom had three years or more with the city. None of that made any difference - the majority on the council already had it's mind made up. ABLE, which has served our community and those of our neighboring cities for more than four decades, is now history. If nothing happens between now and the end of June to change things, the helicopters and equipment used to maintain them will be sold, the four staffers who are Costa Mesa employees will be absorbed back into the CMPD and layoffs will occur.
MONAHAN - SAVE RESERVISTS, DUMP TRAINED OFFICERS
According to the city staff, when the four pilots return to the CMPD they will exercise bumping rights - which will ripple down through the organization. We were told that before the four officers mentioned above are bounced the city would first dump the six reserve officers currently working in the department. Later Mayor Gary Monahan asked the City Attorney - Harold Potter sitting in for the resigned Kim Barlow - to investigate a way for the reserve officers to be spared. While I understand the emotion of his question, I found it curious that the council majority is willing to cut loose four highly trained sworn officers and retain the reservists.
THE THINNEST OF THREADS...
In an effort to possibly save ABLE, the staff was directed to continue the overtures already begun with the county and other cities to investigate a regional airborne law enforcement entity. According to Starn, the current joint powers authority is designed to be the framework for such an effort - it has the capability to fold in other cities. Unfortunately, for any such organization to be formed in time to save ABLE actions would have to take place with almost light speed - something that almost never happens in government at any level. If progress is not made, ABLE will be shuttered the end of June.
TWO COP SLOTS ABANDONED
The council then voted to abandon the two police officer positions that have remained open for four months. It was not a good evening to be a Costa Mesa police officer last night. And, during all this anti-police rhetoric absolutely no mention was made of the fact that we're still paying Police Chief Chris Shawkey while he's on Administrative Leave. His package is worth over $300,000 per year - enough for a couple police officers.
FEES HIKED, FIELDS TO BE RESTED
The council also voted to significantly increase the rental of utility and ball fields and, in a subsequent, separate item, agreed to "rest" some fields, which will result in a loss of revenue in excess of $18,000 per year.
"COST SHARING" PASSED WITH URGENCY
The council gave second reading to the ordinances that authorized the amendment to certain contracts with employee associations that provided for "Cost Sharing", which had been previously negotiated. One was an "urgency ordinance", which permits this issue to become effective today.
HATCH CONTRACT APPROVED - EXECUTIVE SEVERANCE POLICY EXAMINED
Three items involving City Manager-in-waiting Thomas Hatch were heard last night. The first was the approval of his contract - the first of such for a City Manager in Costa Mesa's history. However, most other cities in the county follow this practice. Hatch will get a nice raise and benefit package and enough severance, should that ever become necessary, to keep his nose firmly planted on the grindstone. As a result of his compensation package negotiation there will be a modification of the city council policy 300-2 regarding Executive Severance.
HATCH "CEO" - MENSINGER'S ACT ALREADY GETTING OLD
And, finally, there was unelected councilman Steve Mensinger's proposal to change Hatch's title to Chief Executive Officer (CEO). This is an unnecessary bit of grandstanding on the part of Mensinger, which he acknowledged was purely symbolic. When Wendy Leece inquired about the amount of legal staff time necessary for this item, Potter responded that it was a "no-brainer" - it probably took less than an hour. In his typical flippant, in-you-face style, Mensinger asked what it cost and said he'd write a check for it. We're only a couple months into his term and this attitude is already getting mighty old. And, even worse, history shows us that, based on his tour on the Planning Commission, he's going to get even more cocky and condescending as time goes on.
HATCH GETS BUDGET FOR CONSULTING SERVICES
The council approved an adjustment in this year's budget of $200,000 for consultant services for a city-wide organizational review. Hatch laid out just how that money was earmarked:
$34,000 - Police Department - ($24,000 + add'l expertise $10,000)
$15,000 - Finance Department for 5-year plan
$30,000 - Economic Development Plan
$20,000 - Enhanced Communication
$50,000 - Redesign of Web Site
$50,000 - Additional consulting (OCFA RFP, etc.)
Total - $199,000
Certainly, in light of the staff reductions in several departments, including the City Manager's Office, this kind of expertise is essential to craft timely plans in response to the impatient city council's objectives and timetables. If no other cuts are made to the budget, or if the revenue stream is not greater than anticipated, the city will end the fiscal year with a deficit of $1.6 million.
"SEE WHAT I DID?"
The council also passed another "Mensinger Resolution" - this one to proclaim that Costa Mesa encourages local businesses to hire Costa Mesa Youth. This is just another merit badge on his "Hey, look at me!" sash - nice, but not necessary
WORRIED ABOUT ABLE'S DEMISE
I came away from the meeting last night unsettled for several reasons. The first, of course, is the demise of the ABLE program and the impact its loss will have on the Costa Mesa Police Department. This program has been the model after which all other municipal helicopter programs have been designed. If one believes, as I do, that helicopters are "force multipliers" in local law enforcement, then - as former mayor Sandra Genis said last night - the closure of ABLE will likely mean more than simply the loss of four airborne officers... it will mean a SIGNIFICANT diminishing of public safety in our city.
DISREGARDING THE RULES
I'm also concerned about the cavalier way some members of this council, including Monahan, seem willing to ignore or abandon council policies and/or practices when they're inconvenient. Each of those issues were hashed out and refined over long periods of time. This council - and you will recall that I predicted this - is willing to run roughshod over us all. Righeimer and Mensinger are impatient guys, used to answering to no one. It's clear now that they intend to overlay their management style on our city regardless the damage it will do. If they had not already pre-judged ABLE they might have read the staff report, which gave them a way to balance this year's budget AND still retain ABLE.
DON'T CONFUSE THEM WITH FACTS
I'm concerned about the implementation of the so-called "working groups" - two-person teams of council members charged with investigating several issue in the city. This is the first meeting where the results of those groups can be seen and it raises concerns in my mind - and others with whom I've discussed it - about Brown Act violations. Clearly, some on this council are not going to be swayed by the voices of the residents of this city - they already have their minds made up and they are not going to let facts nor residents opinions get in the way.
Finally, I was very distressed by the implication expressed by Mensinger and Righeimer regarding the previous - and current - management of this city. I heard Mensinger quite overtly criticize the management several times, indicating that he "had to sit four years" and watch the previous council make mistakes. He implied that retiring City Manager Allan Roeder was a culprit in this problem while smiling down at him from the dais and saying "no offense". He's proving to be a guy who will smile and shake your hand with one hand and stab you in the back with the other.
FEELING ROEDER'S PAIN
I know from having watched Roeder in action that he did all he could to advise previous councils about their budgeting practices. Every year he'd tell them that the use of fund balance to balance the budget was not a solution, it was the result of them not making the hard choices - doing their jobs. I don't know how Roeder feels about this, but I suspect these next couple weeks - he retires as of March 4th - will be mighty long and painful. It's truly sad that his long and illustrious career and his tireless dedication to this city for three dozen years will be tainted by egomanical political hacks on the council as he departs. He probably should have retired in December...