Tuesday's Study Session A Bellwether Of The Future?
Tuesday, February 8th, the Costa Mesa City Council will hold a Study Session in Conference Room 1A at City Hall beginning at 4:30 p.m. Normally these meetings last an hour or so. This one promises to be much, much longer because of the nature and number of items to be discussed.
NO VOTES, ONLY DIRECTION GIVEN
As you may know, the council can take no votes on items discussed in a Study Session. They hear staff reports and discuss the issues on an informal basis. They also hear very limited public comments due to the normal time constraints. If any of the issues discussed on Tuesday are to be officially acted upon they must be agendized for an open City Council meeting - the next one is the 15th - at which time a public hearing will be held and full public participation is permitted.
SEVEN ITEMS ON THE AGENDA
There are seven (7) items on the agenda for Tuesday. They are, in order:
1 - Overview of the FY 2010-2011 Budget at Mid Year
2 - Consider the Dissolution of the Airborne Law Enforcement (ABLE) Program
3 - Consider the Elimination of Two Vacant Police Officer Positions
4 - Presentation of Future Rates and City's Unfunded Liability for CalPERS
5 - Discussion of Noticing Requirements for Outsourcing City Services or Layoffs
6 - Redevelopment Agency Update
7 - Employee of the Month
There are no staff reports available for Nos. 1, 4 and 7.
IT'S "MACHETE TIME"
As you look down that list you'll certainly realize the significance of each of them. In previous years this particular session would just be a discussion of the budget. Not this year - not with the new council. This year this session will amount to a "machete-sharpening" event, in which our impatient council members appear ready to begin thinning the city staff with something well-short of surgical precision.
Take #2, for example. Although, according to the staff report, HERE, Costa Mesa has had helicopters for more than forty years and has been operating the joint venture - Airborne Law Enforcement (ABLE) - with Newport Beach for more than fifteen of those. It also contracts with the City of Santa Ana to provide helicopter coverage for a fee. I think it is safe to say that most folks in local law enforcement view ABLE as a tremendous asset to the cities it serves. It is a "force multiplier" that has enhanced law enforcement operations since its inception. However, the benefits notwithstanding, the City Council Budget Working Group (Mayor Gary Monahan and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer) have decided that it must go and are recommending to the full council the dissolution of the program.
CUTTING ABLE HOBBLES POLICE EFFECTIVENESS
If the council decides to proceed with the dissolution of ABLE, and thereby lessening the effectiveness of three police agencies in the process, it will incur some significant costs. Among those are the lease on the hanger for which there is a $13,000 per month obligation with no early termination clause. This could cost over $190,000. There is also a contract with the Santa Ana Police Department, which requires a termination notice by March 1, 2011. Costa Mesa would transfer four officers from ABLE - one commander and 3 pilots - each of whom will have bumping rights that would likely result in the layoffs of 4 junior officers. The three mechanics that are part of ABLE are Newport Beach employees and their futures are unclear should ABLE be dissolved.
I WARNED YOU...
While one would hope such a very significant move would be the result of calm, reasoned consideration by our elected leaders, it sure seems like this is a done deal - without public comment. You will recall I warned you about this crew from the very beginning. This is just the beginning.
TWO OPEN POLICE OFFICER POSITIONS
Item #3 deals with the potential deletion of two (2) open Police Officer positions that have been kept open for four (4) months. IF the City Manager and Acting Police Chief Les Gogerty can agree on a restructuring of the department as a result of the permanent loss of those two positions and IF there is a satisfactory result in the statutorily-required "meet and confer" with the police bargaining unit, the abandonment of those positions would represent a savings in this fiscal year of around $200,000 according to the staff report, HERE. Of course, if they decide to outsource our police activities (see below) it won't make much difference, will it?
PROVIDING LEGAL NOTICE OF "OUTSOURCING" AND LAYOFFS
Let's talk about #5, the "noticing requirements" if the city decides to outsource services or in the case of layoffs. In her staff report, HERE, Contract City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow provides answers to three questions:
1 - Is the City required to give notice to each bargaining unit before issuing layoff notices to its members?
YES, and she cites the reasoning behind that answer.
2 - Is the City required to be specific as to the service/program being considered for contracting out? In other words, can the City Council issue a blanket notice to all employees of its intent to contract out all services to keep all options open?
NO, followed by a lengthy explanation.
3 - May the City withdraw its notice at any time over the 6 months' notice period?
YES, but... (see staff report)
WHAT ABOUT SERVICE TO THE RESIDENTS?
Dumping the "pension problem" by outsourcing services seems to be a ham-handed way to solve that problem. As yet unaddressed is how The City will assure quality services to the residents following any outsourcing efforts. I'm especially concerned about what will happen with public safety - Police and Fire - if those functions are outsourced. If the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the Orange County Fire Authority were to take over servicing Costa Mesa we lose any semblance of control. We would be subject to staffing decisions made by county officials with their priorities in mind, not ours.
REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY UPDATE
Item #6, the Redevelopment Agency Update, is being presented because old/new Governor Jerry Brown has been making big noises about folding up Redevelopment Agencies state-wide, and sucking up that cash into the state's coffers in an attempt to balance the budget.
The staff report, HERE, responds to three questions posed by the City Council:
1 - What is the Status of Governor Brown's Recent Proposal to Eliminate Redevelopment Agencies in California?
2 - What is the Status of the City of Costa Mesa Loan to the Costa Mesa Redevelopment Agency (RDA)?
3 - How Much Money is Unencumbered in the Redevelopment Agency's Budget for the Downtown Fund?
Please refer to the staff report for the detail in the responses. While there are specifics as to the numbers in items 2 and 3, number 1 is the great unknown.
"IMPATIENCE" MEANS TROUBLE
I fear the impatience of a majority on the City Council may drive us into significant legal entanglements as they rush to "do something" about the budget - and serve their own personal political agenda at the same time. As each day passes it's becoming clear to me that the impatient majority has already decided a very specific course of action - to resolve the "pension problem" by disposing of the employees who carry that obligation.
WHAT ABOUT TRANSPARENCY?
There are many facets of these issues that have NOT been thoroughly aired and made available for public comment. With four members of the council clearly operating in lock-step - and with the strong possibility of Brown Act violations as a result of their mismanagement of their "sub-committee" scheme - there is every likelihood that many of these major decisions are going to be a fait accompli before any resident has a chance to address them with the council. Personally, I'm not too happy with the idea of our municipal fiscal future being decided by the mayor and mayor pro tem and a bunch of their cronies over a few beers at the mayor's gin mill.
CALM DELIBERATION AND RESIDENT INVOLVEMENT
I urge the City Council to throttle-back their self-serving agenda a little and take the time required for reasoned discourse on these issues before charging off like the Sooners in the Oklahoma land rush. Effective management of our city demands resident involvement and mature, calm deliberation. They simply cannot run around like the Queen of Hearts, shouting "Off With Their Heads!" and properly serve the needs of the people who elected them.