Council Meeting Wrap-up
Did you ever have one of "those days"? Well, today has been one of them for me. I've been trying to get this posted since early this morning but an avalanche of stuff just kept piling on. So, finally, this is my take on last night's Costa Mesa City Council meeting.
MORE CROWDS - A GOOD THING
After all the exultation from the quashed Fairgrounds sale subsided the City Council actually did get down to business, and before yet another large crowd, too. This is getting to be a habit - a good habit. In fact, the entire City Council was actually in attendance. Thanks to Eric Bever for gracing us with his presence for a change. If you wish, you can watch all four hours and thirty-eight minutes of the meeting HERE.
CITIZENS CONTINUE TO SPEAK OUT
Public Comments yielded some interesting observations. As mentioned in my previous post, former mayor Sandra Genis informed the council that the Fairgrounds sale was quashed, as did Katrina Foley. I had the distinct impression that both of these women would have liked to rub the noses of certain council members in this announcement. You know, kind of a "bad boy!" thing.
Perry Valantine, who spoke several times last night with articulate wisdom, suggested to the City Council that the link to the recent Adam Probolsky poll on the city web site is inappropriate because it makes the city appear to be taking sides on an issue instead of just presenting facts. He's right, of course. The Probolsky poll is clearly a "push poll" designed to herd the respondent in a certain direction.
Eleanor Egan, once again, asked about historical legal costs.
Non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger's pal Howard Hull told us all that the new Police Chief should be someone who lives in the city and knows its problems.. this was a not-very-veiled boost for the candidacy of ABLE Commander Tim Starn, who later got major kudos from Mensinger. More on that later.
Sue Lester wondered about the status of the searches for Police Chief, Finance Director and Fire Chief. She also, again, wondered why the council didn't consider a tax on the sale of medical marijuana (her business) as an enhancement to the city's revenue stream.
Katrina Foley celebrated the end of the Fairgrounds sale then bemoaned what looked like the dissolution of ABLE and the pending loss of School Resource Officers.
Long time council watcher Beth Refakes expressed concern about the potential release of state prisoners to local jails and chided the council for their uneven treatment of speakers before them and issues that favor their supporters..
PUBLIC HEARINGS RIGHT ON SCHEDULE
The first Public Hearing of the evening - that started right on schedule at 7:00 p.m. - was about the distribution of the Community Development Block Grant funds. This year the pool available to Costa Mesa for this distribution is down 17%, which meant that slightly over $180,000 was to be distributed. This issue had the potential for some major fireworks.
RIGHEIMER DODGES A BULLET
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer sits on the board of two of the recommended recipients, Mercy House and Youth Employment Services, so he left the dais and the auditorium so those two items could be deliberated and voted upon separately. This could have been a huge problem because, in years past, it was not unusual for one or more council members to want to massage the recommended distributions - taking from one or two and giving to others. Had that happened this time around, after Righeimer's organizations had already been approved, it would have been viewed as preferential treatment. As it turned out, all the organizations were given the amounts recommended by the staff and the 3R Committee. Next year Righeimer - or any other council member who sits on the boards of any of the potential recipients - should excuse themselves from ANY discussions on the distributions, period.
BIA FUNDED AGAIN - WITH AN INCREASE
The council approved the funding for the Business Improvement Association (BIA) and authorized the signing of the agreement that specifies how some of the funds will be spent. The ten hotels that form the organization will each collect 3% on top of the Transient Occupancy Tax of 8% and use the difference to promote business in Costa Mesa.
BUDGET TRAIN MOVING ON DOWN THE TRACK
CEO Tom Hatch outlined upcoming budget meetings, including three next week. On Tuesday, the 14th, there will be another Budget Study Session at which some of the city department heads will provide a short overview of their budgets. At this meeting Hatch hopes to close the gap on a balanced budget. On the 16th there will be an employee meeting to discuss the budget and also a community workshop in a smaller venue - probably Conference Room 1A - where staff members will answer questions about the budget. On the following Tuesday, the 21st, it is anticipated that Hatch will present the final budget for council approval. The 28th remains a fall-back date, in case a final budget can't be approved on the 21st.
CMPD RESTRUCTURING PLAN DUE THIS WEEK
Hatch told us that the Police Department restructuring study will be available for review later this week and will be discussed during the extended Study Session on the 14th. Rumors are that the plan will call for a dramatic down-sizing of the staff which, due to recent departures, is already operating way below its authorized staff levels.
NEW "FISCAL POLICIES" IN THE WORKS, TOO
Also on that date there will be a presentation of new fiscal policies for the council to consider. According to Hatch, these are in response to requests from several council members and will be crafted to improve the budgeting process.
POLICE CHIEF RECRUITMENT CONTINUES THIS WEEK
Hatch also told us that the recruitment for Police Chief has reached the point where candidates will be interviewed by three separate screening groups - one representing senior law enforcement officials, one group from the community and one of city representatives. This process will take place this week. No date was given for the final selection, nor was any indication given about how many candidates remain in the hunt, nor was the identities of members of any of the screening groups. One thing is certain - our city cannot make yet another mistake in the selection of our top cop. Too bad we can't convince Interim Chief Steve Staveley to sign on for a few years... Oh, well.
FINANCE DIRECTOR RECRUITMENT
The recruitment for a new Finance Director is also underway. Applications have been received and are being screened. Interviews will begin soon.
REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS (RFPs) DUE OUT THIS WEEK
Hatch advised us that most of the outsourcing RFPs will be out by Friday and that responses will be anticipated in 30 days. That pushes this process out into July, following which each of the replies must be analyzed. At some point it is hoped that the internal operations will be fairly analyzed so they can be accurately compared to the outsourcing submissions.
RIGHEIMER SAW THE CAMERA AND STARTED YAPPING
At about 8:45 Jim Righeimer launched into a sound bite for the media in attendance, most of which subsequently appeared on Fox 11 television later that night. He just regurgitated the same old mantra that most have gotten tired of hearing since January. He keeps telling us that we're running out of money - we're not - and that our situation is not sustainable so dramatic cuts must be made. He did acknowledge that no overtures to the employee bargaining units have been made so "cuts will have to be made to balance the budget".
ABLE TO MELT AWAY AT THE END OF THE MONTH
The council voted to, in fact dissolve the ABLE helicopter program, but at Righeimer's insistence, delay the actual sale of the three helicopters for three months in case a private/public option can be cobbled together soon. They also voted to authorize $150,000 (Hatch requested $100,000) to contract with Huntington Beach for helicopter support for the remainder of the year. Apparently Newport Beach is working on a similar arrangement with Huntington Beach.
LEASE AND STARN
There are some very interesting aspects of this issue. First, the ABLE Commander dollars remain in the new budget. ABLE still has a lease on the hangar at John Wayne Airport through April - at $13,000 per month if memory serves. Nobody said what's going to happen to the helicopters, which must be operated frequently to remain in good working order. Nor has anyone said what happens to the mechanics - they are paid for by Newport Beach. It sounds like Commander Tim Starn is going to be a very expensive watchman over at the airport.
$5 MILLION IN RESERVES!
Also, when asked by councilwoman Wendy Leece, Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley and Starn confirmed that ABLE has $5 million in its reserves! That's enough to fully fund the operations for at least a year - probably two - without tapping any General Fund money from either Costa Mesa or Newport Beach. Nobody on the council was interested in extending the protection of this program beyond the end of the month. When Mensinger asked Righeimer, who made the motion to dissolve ABLE, if he was willing to extend the date until immediately after the July 4th holiday weekend (the fireworks-filled weekend), he bluntly said, "NO". Mensinger subsequently voted with Leece against the motion.
SABOTAGING A BALANCED BUDGET
I came away from the meeting last night as frustrated as ever. It's clear that this council will view a balanced budget as an impediment to their grand plan for "pension reform". If the staff finds a way to balance the budget without the use of our dwindling Fund Balance that puts a real crimp in the council majority's plans. So, they just keep adding requirements to the budget - like the additional $50,000 for the helicopter deal with Huntington Beach. Hatch has no prayer against these guys - something that Mensinger practically admitted last night as he heaped praise on Hatch. I've learned from watching Mensinger that when he starts showering you with praise you'd darn well better be watching your back.
PETULANCE ON PARADE
He wrapped up his evening last night with a petulant, infantile complaint about criticism he and other council members have been receiving from the audiences in recent meetings. Last night's audience was attentive, but quiet and respectful. Still, Mensinger griped about being hissed and feet being stomped and folks clapping - none of which happened last night. As I've said MANY times before, he doesn't like ANYONE to tell him NO, and will pout and spit back if it happens - just ask Wendy Leece. He complained about the lack of professionalism of the audience - I didn't realize there was a requirement for "professionalism" to be a concerned resident and observer. He said it was rude of people to jeer when others were talking, yet he sits there and texts during presentations to the council. Now THAT'S rude!
A CHARISMATIC BULLY
Mensinger continues to demonstrate that, while he's a charismatic character, he is not worthy of the job he's been APPOINTED to. He has neither the patience nor tolerance required to follow the rules in a municipal government role. He demonstrated that while on the Planning Commission and it's only gotten worse now that he's on the City Council. He treats City Hall like his own little private fiefdom, wandering the halls and intimidating the remaining staff. He remains a bully and I doubt if anything will ever change him.
HAS MONAHAN ABDICATED?
I also came away with the feeling that Mayor Gary Monahan has abdicated control of the council to Righeimer. My gut tells me that this is not a good thing, but Monahan has grown almost bored with the process - probably because he's had more criticism in the last six months than his previous 14 years combined. If things continue the way they're going I'd be very surprised if he chooses to run for re-election in 2012.
MORE MEETINGS NEXT WEEK
So, next week the beat goes on. More meetings - at least 3 - with the goal of getting close to a balanced budget. Tuesday we'll hear what the few remaining department heads have to say about the budget and by then we'll know what the future of the Costa Mesa Police Department is. I fear the week will end with more clouds of doom and despair hovering over our city. And what will make it worse is that we'll continue to see Righeimer's mug all over the television, telling the world what a disaster our city is to pad his resume as a savior of the city. It makes me want to barf!