Adios To Roeder & The Snowball's Moving
I came home from the City Council meeting at midnight last night completely wrung out from the emotion of the evening and sat here trying to capture my thoughts for you but, quite honestly, it turned out to be one of those situations where I just had to "sleep on it". Now, with a bright sun blaring in my window and the thought that "it's a new day" in my head, I'm giving it another shot. (NOTE: My telephones have not stopped ringing this morning with comments and complaints about the meeting, so this thing has taken me all morning to finish.. sorry about that.)
MEDIA WAS EVERYWHERE!
You can read Joe Serna's take in the Daily Pilot HERE and Jon Cassidy in the Register HERE. Each has a little different perspective on the story. In fact, there will be lots of stories on this event - the media was everywhere, including two television news vans, photojournalists from the OC Weekly and the ubiquitous Register columnist, Frank Mickadeit, who arrived late and left early.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND...
OK, I guess we should just cut to the chase.... The meeting last night was both wonderful and terrible. It brought tears of joy and just plain old tears of frustration and pain. It played to a packed house, with every seat filled until the clock headed past 11p.m. More than a hundred brave souls hung in until the end of the discussion of the Outsourcing issue. One person commented that we hadn't seen this kind of media attention since then-mayor Allan Mansoor tried to solve his "illegal immigrant" problem by attempting to make every Costa Mesa cop an immigration screener four years ago.
THE BEGINNING OF "ROEDER WEEK"
As anticipated, the recognition given to retiring City Manager Allan Roeder and resigned City Attorney Kim Barlow was terrific. All the tear-filled kudos given to Roeder by speakers were certainly well-deserved. It began an hour earlier in the lobby of City Hall where friends and current and former colleagues toasted him with cookies and punch and had a chance to wish him well. It was a nice beginning to what will be a whirlwind week of celebrations for him.
MARCH 1ST - "ALLAN ROEDER DAY" IN COSTA MESA
While I hated to see him go, I could see the weight lift off his shoulders as he walked up the center aisle of council chambers, shaking hands with well-wishers as he carried out the proclamations, placards and gifts presented to him - including one hand-delivered and personally presented by now-Assemblyman Mansoor. I hope he and his lovely wife drove to some exotic venue for dinner and never turned on the television again last night.
AND THEN THERE WAS THE BUSINESS...
The council meeting itself was another matter all together. Some of the early items went well, including the official swearing-in of Thomas Duarte as the new contract City Attorney. Roeder, before he waltzed off into the sunset, provided an update on the current situation with the Orange County Fairgrounds. At this point nothing is happening until after the next court date near the end of this month.
OF "ROCKS", WALLS AND EGO BOOSTS
Steve Mensinger requested the ROCKS program issue be continued so he can get together with staff and former council woman Katrina Foley to study the issue more. The change of the name of the City Manager to Chief Executive Officer of the City was approved - an unnecessary bit of fluff designed so Mensinger can show his mark on our city to his grandkids, I guess. The council also approved the new ordinance requiring a permit for certain masonry walls.
"ENHANCED" EMS SCHEME DISCUSSED
The evening really started popping, though, when the discussion turned to Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer's latest scheme - to send a letter to the head of the County EMS program asking for an assessment of possibly adding "enhanced" EMS service in Costa Mesa to supplement - not replace - our current ambulance program. Several residents stood to question the need for this initiative, most expressing concern about the costs - both to the city and to the residents who would use a private ambulance service. Costa Mesa EMS Coordinator Larry Grihalva spoke a couple times with knowledge and passion. He told the council that he was surprised that neither he nor acting Fire Chief Kirk Dominic had been contacted about this plan, since he - Grihalva - was the repository of information that would have been valuable to the council (Righeimer) BEFORE he launched this effort. The council voted 4-1 (Wendy Leece voting NO) to send the letter that will start this particular snowball rolling down hill.
DON'T CONFUSE THE COUNCIL WITH FACTS
Let me pause here and state that throughout the evening, on the EMS issue and the Outsourcing later, it appeared that most members of the council already had their minds made up on the issues and didn't really want to be bothered with the FACTS. Speaker after speaker - including many highly respected former senior staff members and elected officials - and urged the council to slow down a little before they dismantled a city that has taken more than 60 years to build. Those warnings were barely acknowledged and uniformly ignored.
TWO HOURS ON "OUTSOURCING"
Finally, at 9:40 with the auditorium still packed, the council got around to the discussion of the plan proposed by Mayor Gary Monahan and Righeimer, as the Budget Work Group, to outsource the jobs of eighteen city functions (so far). Estimates vary about the number of staffers that will be affected. The Register says "half the staff". The Pilot says 150. The truth is, NOBODY knows today exactly how many staffer's jobs are in jeopardy, although it's pretty easy to count heads in certain departments - especially when part of this equation is, for example, dumping the entire Fire Department and support staff. Based on my conversations with folks Tom Hatch, Assistant City Manager until Saturday when he becomes CEO, led the discussion with a refresher on the fiscal condition of the city, then Monahan and Righeimer gave us their reasons for throwing the entire city staff into turmoil.
"DON'T ASK IF..."
I'm not going to try to quote every single speaker in this discussion, but a few comments were especially noteworthy. For example, Helen Evers - who told us she'd lived in Costa Mesa since 1958 - was one of several speakers who spoke with passion about the possibility of outsourcing the Animal Control operations. At one point, in response to statements made earlier by council members that they wanted community input, she cautioned the council with this admonition, "You don't ask for ideas if you have no intention of using them." Her opinion was based on prior experience with councils in the past.
"WAS A STUDY DONE?"
Perry Valantine, who retired after an illustrious career in the Planning Department, wore his "funeral suit" because he feared he was seeing the death of the city as we know it. He encouraged the council to look beyond "the bottom line", to look at both sides of the issue and asked whether there had been a study done to get to the list of probable outsourced departments. (The answer, not given, is NO) He expressed concern about bumping rights - which must be exercised by staffers WITHIN FIVE DAYS of receiving a layoff notice and was very concerned that the council seems unwilling to wait for answers before making decisions.
"OUTSOURCING IS AMPUTATION"
Eleanor Egan, a former attorney in the City Attorney's office and planning commissioner following her retirement, reminded the council that "City government is it's people". She went on to say, "Outsourcing is an amputation - replacing a living limb with a wooden leg." She ended by looking squarely at the council and said, "Yes, I'm angry! And if you go ahead with this you should be ashamed!"
"PART OF THE SOLUTION.."
Tim Vasin, president of the Costa Mesa Firefighters Association, stepped up and clarified the genesis of the Request for Proposals for the Orange County Fire Authority presentation. Righeimer had earlier waved a copy of the proposal in the air, stating that "We didn't ask for this, you did!" Vasin reminded the council that his organization agreed to pay for the RFP as a data-gathering tool with which city and fire department management could analyze city fire operations, looking for efficiencies. He emphasized that the OCFA proposal has huge holes in it and, at the end of the day, his organization could still reject it. Throughout his presentation Vasin told the council that he and his firefighters want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
"MET EVERY DEMAND..."
At the end long time employee Billy Folsom reminded the council that employees had presented a list of 120 suggestions early in the process of trying to identify potential budget savings, and that they were rejected in total. He reminded the council that the bargaining unit asked what they could do to help and the city gave them a list - and that the employees did EVERY ONE - met every request, every concession. He, as much as any speaker before him, reflected the frustration being experienced by city employees since the announcement of this outsourcing list last Friday. He reminded the council that a study was done recently of the graffiti removal operations that showed the city staff does it cheaper than other options - and yet it appears on the list. Same with the street sweepers. The predominant opinion among those with whom I spoke was that this is a done deal and that they really have no voice in the outcome, regardless of the facts presented.
RIGHEIMER - ARROGANCE PERSONIFIED
Righeimer only added fuel to that fire when he said, "...it's disappointing when people make insinuations about what people's motives are. And I think the first step to working forward is not to do that." That's an indication of the arrogance this man brings to the party. He wants you to blindly accept his ideas even though there is no evidence of any kind of an analysis that brought him to his conclusions. Earlier he looked out at the packed auditorium and commented that Costa Mesa is a city of 116,000 people and yet only around 200 are here tonight, and most of them are employees, implying that the remainder of the population of the city fully supported what the council was doing, or they'd be here to comment, too. Give me a break! He feels that, because he received 31% of the votes cast in the last election, he has a "mandate" to run roughshod over the city. He conveniently ignores the fact that 69% of the votes cast DID NOT go for him.
HIS "MOTIVES" HAVE BEEN CLEAR ALL ALONG
Those of us who pay attention saw Righeimer campaign on a platform of "pension reform" - the mantra handed down from the Orange County Republican Party which he blindly follows. We heard him, in the very first meeting at which he was a council member, tell us that he wanted to look at "every job" in the city that could be done by someone other than city employees - outsourcing. Since he won't be able to effect "pension reform" the old fashioned way - by negotiating with the employees - he's taking the easy way out and is going to simply just dump them in favor of low-bid contractors. All this to polish his political resume to grease the skids to his next jump to higher office. The man has no shame! Sadly, it was no surprise when the council voted 4-1 to approve the motion, which will result in layoff notices being presented to roughly a third of the city staff in the next couple days. That will trigger the chaos of 'bumping" for the next week and turn City Hall into a game of dodge ball as employees jockey for position to stay employed.
THANKS, GARY... I THINK
I had to smile when Monahan, trying to justify his concern for our budget situation and to provide some perspective, referred to me by name from the dais, indicating that I had been critical of him inserting himself into budget deliberations before he was actually sworn-in when he was elected the last time. You can read what I wrote at that time HERE. I guess he does read this stuff - and remembers, too.
OK, BUT WHERE'S THE MONEY COMING FROM?
Once that issue was put to bed the chambers emptied as if someone had pushed the plunger on a toilet and the angry discussions spilled out onto the council chambers porch. Those few of us who remained for "council member comments" heard Bever use his bully pulpit to bad-mouth former mayor Sandra Genis for her vocal positions expressed that evening. We also heard Steve Mensinger ask Hatch to "find a consultant to score our pensions once and for all." Bever asked Hatch "to get some bids for doing a transition audit. I'd like us to bring in one of the Big 8 firms and basically do an audit of our entire operation financially. That would also include a payroll audit." Funny, I didn't hear any discussion of where, in this time of financial crisis in our city, the money for the consultant and audit will come from.
WHAT'S BEVER UP TO NOW?
Bever also asked for "all documents that were pertinent to the PERS increase for general employees." Since he has demonstrated no skills with complex financial issues and has, in fact, engaged in a personal boycott of many of his duties in a fit of pique, it makes one wonder just what mischief he's up to with this request since that ship has sailed.
THE JUNTA RULES
I think it's safe to say that every city employee, and most of the rest of us, too, in attendance last night left feeling very frustrated by this process. It was clear to us that this council has little regard for community input. They barely tolerate it and, in the case of Bever, openly criticize speakers who take the time to present their views. You could almost feel the civility, transparency and professionalism being sucked out the door as Allan Roeder left the chambers. We have entered an era when what is good for the city becomes subordinate to the political dogma of regional and national parties and the political future of council members. We are being "led" by men who think that, because there are not 116,000 people in the streets with pitchforks and burning torches opposing their actions, they have an unquestionable mandate to impose their collective will on the populace. We don't have a city council any longer - we are being governed by a junta.
WATCH ROEDER BOW OUT
You can watch the streaming video of the meeting HERE. Or, you can watch the replay on Channel 24 (99 on ATT UVerse) beginning tonight at 5:30 for the next week based on this schedule: