Toes Only Moderately Toasted
"What did I think of the Feet to the Fire forum last night?" That was the question several people, including Barbara Venezia, the "Energizer Bunny" behind it all, asked me after it was over. Well, I thought it was pretty good, although nobody actually answered the theme question, "Should Costa Mesa be run more like a business?" They answered lots of other questions, but not that one. Basically, it ended up being a discussion of outsourcing and not much else. I would have preferred a little tighter rein on the proceedings.
THE CROWD - "IT WAS A TIE"
Judging by the reaction from the nearly 300 people gathered at the Neighborhood Community Center last night, I'd say each side will think they "won" the evening. It was a well-mannered group except for one loud-mouthed knucklehead who heckled Jim Righeimer very early on in the proceedings. He was promptly escorted out of the building without incident.
ROWDY ON THE STAGE
While the crowd was behaving itself, the folks on the stage got a little rowdy during the evening. At times, from several vantage points in the room, it was difficult to hear the dialogue because the participants were trying to out-shout each other. Those on the stage and some in the first few rows of the audience apparently didn't have any trouble hearing the discussion, but those of us in the cheap seats - half-way back and beyond - just got a blast of noise from time to time. I joked with Venezia at the end that she should have had a cattle prod to keep the participants inline. "Quiet! Zap!"
THE BIG SHOUT-DOWN
Wendy Leece frequently interrupted Righeimer's comments, trying to correct misinformation he was providing. Righeimer frequently interrupted Leece and Orange County Employee Association General Manager Nick Berardino, trying to deflect their comments. At one point Voice of OC Managing Editor Norberto Santana, Jr., and Righeimer got into a heated debate/shouting match, with Righeimer attempting to deflect Santana's questions by challenging his funding - pointing to Berardino and referring to him as "your boss". The OCEA does provide some funding for the Voice of OC.
RIGHEIMER - THE PARTY LINE
From my standpoint, it seemed to me that Righeimer and Colin McCarthy were self-assured to the point of cocky arrogance. Righeimer continued to preach the "party line", using fabricated numbers to emphasize his statement that The City is in serious fiscal trouble. He continues to not let pesky facts change his opinion. Several times during the night he said, "We're done with the politics of fear.", which seems to be the latest buzz phrase provided to him by his handlers in the OC GOP. I guess threatening half the city staff with layoffs doesn't qualify as "politics of fear". I guess inflating the budget deficit numbers so it seems as though the sky is falling doesn't qualify as "politics of fear."
RIGHEIMER - AUDIENCE NOT RELEVANT
And, he continued the annoying practice of summarily dismissing audience as not being representative of the community as a whole, just as he's done at recent council meetings. He used anecdotal "evidence" of discussions he's had with folks at Home Depot as an indicator of the true feelings of the community. It was a curious position to take, since the crowd last night seemed to be about equally split. As I looked around last night I saw many familiar faces - employees and residents who have attended council meetings in recent month - but I also saw many new faces, too.
BERARDINO - "WE WILL MEET AND CONFER"
Not much new information was provided by either side, which didn't really surprise me. The biggest news for me was the offer by Berardino to re-open negotiations with The City to try to help balance the budget. That's the first time we've heard that either side is actually willing to engage in the "meet and confer" process this time around.
Before the meeting began representatives of McCarthy's Costa Mesa Taxpayer's Association worked the crowd, jamming into their hands copies of a recent poll they conducted - a push poll, with questions akin to "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?", and a very misleading "Compensation Report" which purported to show 2010 compensation of employees who "earned" over $190,000 last year. The problem with that "report" was that it's not accurate! It is distorted by lump-sum payouts of vacation pay for retirees and those who otherwise left the city. Both documents were clearly designed to inflame the crowd, just as Righeimer and McCarthy's inaccurate statements from the stage were intended to do.
A SUCCESS - WHICH YOU CAN SOON JUDGE FOR YOURSELF
All in all I'd say the Feet To The Fire Forum was a success. Yes, it would have been better without the shouting matches, but it turned out OK. Soon you'll be able to judge for yourself. Dane Bora and Brad Long of CMTV tell me they hope to have the tape placed into the rotation by Thursday and the streaming video up before that. I'll let you know and provide a replay schedule as soon as it's available.