"The People" Spoke - Did The Council Listen?
As anticipated, the City Council chambers were packed last night well in advance of the beginning of the first meeting since the debacle of March 17th and 18th. In addition to the "usual suspects" - those dedicated activists who attend most meetings - there were a lot of new faces, too. I'm sure many of those new folks attended as a result of the publicity provided here and elsewhere.
By "elsewhere" I mean the email sent by non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger yesterday afternoon beseeching folks on his list to turn out to, "boost the spirits of those of us that want more dollars spent on infrastructure, Parks and family attractants." And, it also includes the flier sent out by Parks & Recreation Commissioner Ethan Temianka, Righeimer lap dog and "Marketing Director" of the Costa Mesa Taxpayer's Association, announcing a "Call to Action" and requesting recipients attend the council meeting to "speak to your elected Councilmembers and tell them to prioritize Costa Mesa Residents first in their budget discussions". That's code for "tell those greedy out-of-town employees to shove it".
PORCH PEOPLE AND THE COPS
By the time the meeting began very shortly after 6 p.m. every single seat in the chambers was filled and there were more than 50 people standing on the porch, viewing the television screen placed there by the city staff. As events moved along some of those porch folks made it into the chambers as people left. Order was maintained by the eight (8) Costa Mesa police officers in the auditorium - the largest such security presence long-time observers can recall.
MEDIA COVERED IT LIKE A BLANKET
I'm not going to try to quote all of the more than 50 speakers last night. The predominant thread through the comments by those opposing outsourcing was, "Rescind the pink slips". Joe Serna in the Daily Pilot, HERE, Jon Cassidy in the Orange County Register, HERE and Norberto Santana, Jr., in the Voice of OC, HERE, captured the tone of the evening with their reports. There were at least 4 television crews parked outside, so this latest low point in Costa Mesa's history will be played over and over again across the country for our friends and relatives to see.
GARY TRIES TO FALL ON HIS SWORD - AND MISSES
Mayor Gary Monahan kicked things off with a mea culpa in which he apologized for his "shortcomings" (I'd have found another word) as mayor recently and promised to do better. Although he alluded to it, he never did mention the suicide of Huy Pham specifically - he waltzed around it, but never mentioned his name. I found myself shaking my head and thinking that he's just never going to get this right.
Then CEO Tom Hatch launched off on a report discussing what is going on in the city and the status of certain overtures recently announced. I'm not going to try to quote his entire presentation. It will soon be available on streaming video. He did mention the press release issued Tuesday responding to some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). He then discussed four key focuses on the City agenda:
1 - Increasing communication with employees and the community.
2 - Reviewing the proposal from the Orange County Fire Authority. He told us it will be reviewed, analyzed and brought to the council at a Study Session on May 10th.
3 - Prepare 17 other Requests for Proposals for possible outsourcing.
4 - Command staff and consultant (Management Partners) review of police operations.
He also mentioned the budget, indicating that the council wants a balanced budget with no further use of reserves. I had to chuckle when he said that would be a real challenge... no kidding! Especially when you consider that, early in this budget process cycle and based on submissions by department heads, the city is looking at a $5 million budget deficit! And, as Hatch said, that does not include things the council and community want included - like 80 alleys being reconstructed and over $3 million in Information Technology enhancements - and more. Hatch mentioned that we've blown through $35 million in reserves over the past three years.
In terms of commitments to the council and community he mentioned, specifically, that the RFP process for any outsourcing will be professionally managed and data will be made available to the public. He also discussed "projections", speaking specifically about financial projections and used PERS rates as an example.
VIDEO FOR THE PUBLIC
He mentioned video taping managers for public viewing to explain things like budgeting and the need for enhancing the IT function to provide more transparency to the community. He mentioned the use of an expert to come in and explain underfunded liabilities. He also committed to having more communication and transparency.
HELEN LEADS OFF
At that point Monahan launched Public Comments and off we went, with more than 50 - my count was 52 - speakers lining up to let the council know how they felt. Clearly, the most vocal support came for those who opposed the outsourcing. I counted 38 of the 52 speakers in opposition to outsourcing. Costa Mesa Employees Association President Helen Nenadal led it off with an passionate "thank you" to the community for its support of the employees over the past three difficult weeks. She received rousing applause when she finished.
"SANCHO" GETS HIS NOSE SOILED
She was followed immediately by unemployed Planning Commissioner and Mensinger boot-licker, Jim Fitzpatrick, who offered up such an affectionate, slobbery proclamation of support for the council that I half-expected him to leap the barrier and give Monahan a big, wet kiss when he praised him for his apology. I thought I saw him wipe something brown off his nose as he headed back to his seat with faint applause. Things went up hill from there - how could it not?
"FIRE YOURSELF, GARY"
Susan Meyer, a College Park resident for 18 years, shredded Monahan, told him he was an embarrassment and, since he has so much experience firing people, asked him to fire himself.
FEISTY FLORES SPEAKS OUT
Joel Flores stood, turned to the audience and said, " This is what happens when we elect certain people to City Council who care more about climbing the political ladder than they do about our city." Later he said, "These attacks on city workers are political, self-serving examples of shameless opportunism." A little later he said, motioning to the City Council, "This is irresponsible leadership that lacks creativity whatsoever to solve the problems. You have cooked the books, cried poor and then pretended that this is something you have to do. We demand that you rescind the layoffs. We demand that you restore Costa Mesa." As he walked up the aisle and pushed open the door to leave the auditorium you could hear the cheers from the throng assembled on the porch outside.
PERRY'S PERFECT PROSE
Perry Valantine, a 39 year resident and retired 32 year employee, stepped up once again and presented his calm, reasoned view of the issue. He presented the council with irrefutable facts, pointing out misstatements by members of the council in the media. He ended his presentation with a question: "Based on the evidence, is balancing the budget the real objective, or is there a political motivation that takes precedence over best interests of the City of Costa Mesa?" Seemed like a very good question to me.
Several speakers refuted the claim that outsourcing is more cost effective, including 12-year resident Michele Martell, who told us she does outsourcing for a living. Based on her experience, she just didn't believe the numbers she'd been hearing about the projected savings by outsourcing. She ended by saying, "It just concerns me that this city council is selling us a bill of goods and expecting us to be uneducated and uninformed or so complacent that we will believe this bill of goods you're trying to sell us. But when you leave for bigger GOP jobs we're stuck with the decisions you've made for us, because none of us want to move."
RIDGE - "YOU'VE RUINED THE BRAND"
Resident and activist Greg Ridge started by bemoaning the "leadership vacuum and lack of leadership that has brought us here." He said, "We're told that the brand of Costa Mesa is all-important. And yet, I've seen the brand of Costa Mesa broke and splashed across 500 national news outlets." He later told the council that, "You do not produce a product, you provide a service and these services are more important to the shareholders than anything." He ended by telling the council that they've ruined the brand of Costa Mesa.
AYER ON TRUE PENSION NUMBERS
Former Fountain Valley councilman Gus Ayer presented facts to the council that refuted the claims that our pension numbers are going up, and gave chapter and verse to support his view. Of course, rising pension costs are the cornerstone of their whole scheme.
It went on and on, with speaker after speaker rising to express their views. Almost all of them were polite, considerate, articulate spokespersons for their opinion - on both sides of the issue.
When it came time for council members comments Righeimer led off and tried to explain why outsourcing was in play - not very effectively, by the way. He frequently has problems getting his thoughts out coherently - last night was one of those times. At one point, as he began to explain "contracts", he said, "If you look at basic contracts, I'll tell ya, you look at the contracts and you've got some great negotiators on your side, I've gotta tell ya, you've got the best. And you did a great job. The problem is, we're just having a hard time paying them." When I heard those words I couldn't help think of his own, personal financial difficulties in the past. He's told us repeatedly that he never filed for bankruptcy - that it took him nine years but he paid off all his debts. I can hear those very words coming out of his mouth back then - "...the problem is, we're just having a hard time paying them." He just walked away from those contractual obligations back then and excused it by taking nearly a decade to pay off the debt. I still wonder what happened to those "little guys" that he stiffed all those years ago.
MUDDLING THROUGH WITHOUT MANDOKI
As he attempted to show the audience how greedy the employees are, he went on to muddle his explanation of sick days and vacation, eventually combining them and calling them "vacation". I'm not sure he really understands this stuff. And, oh by the way, one of the guys who could help him understand this stuff, Director of Administrative Services Steve Mandoki, resigned yesterday. We don't know why, but can certainly assume having been given a pink slip three weeks ago might have had something to do with it. That, and the hostile workplace that's been created at City Hall by this current council.
BEVER'S BACK - WOE IS US
The "best" was yet to come when the microphone was passed to Eric Bever - who must have been sick recently because he looked like he's lost 20 pounds. He stated off by telling us how depressed he was last October during the negotiations that he just walked away from the table. Yeah, Eric - we remember. You abandoned your responsibilities to the residents of the city because you were peeved. Bever, ever the class act, was bemoaning our fiscal condition, said that he wanted to keep everyone employed and that he said that as "far back as 2008 - November, when we realized that the shit was hitting the fan." I apologize for that word, but that's what he said from the dais. Ever the class act...
RETURN OF THE PETULANT...
Later he pointedly aimed a negative comment directly at Wendy Leece's daughter, Amy, who he referred to as "Wendy Leece Junior". When members of the audience chided him he went off on a little pity trip, saying among other things, "I didn't sign on for this." He said, "I wish that the community members, instead of being snide and vindictive and hateful, would actually try to pitch in and help out." Oh, woe is me! Here's the deal, Eric. You did, in fact, "sign on for this"... it's part of the job. Either stop whining and cursing from the dais and do the job you were elected to do - and are being paid to do - or step down. It's a simple choice, even for you. Many of us out here are getting VERY tired of your petulance. Grow up, for goodness sake!
NOTHING WILL CHANGE
People asked me last night if I thought the large, vocal turnout would change anything. Sadly, I said NO.... this council has demonstrated ever since it was seated in January that it has no plan to listen to public input on any issue. No, I think they will just proceed as they are doing now, bending or breaking the rules when it's not convenient to follow them and ignoring the voice of the people and what is best for the city. I expect that the political dogma preached by the Orange County Republican Party will continue to drive the agenda in Costa Mesa, to the detriment of us all.