Late Night Costa Mesa Hijinks
"So, where ya been Pot Stirrer?", you ask. Well, last night's council meeting just flat wrung me out and by the time I finally left City Hall at 1:20 a.m. I was so disappointed and angry about the events of the evening/morning and so physically thrashed that I just couldn't sit down and write... so I took a mini-hiatus for a few hours. I'm back.
By the time that meeting ended in the wee hours of Wednesday it seemed to me that we'd had an entire week's activities jammed into two days. With Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley's abrupt departure and the letter he left in his wake; Tom Hatch's angry response to that departure; the last-minute presentation by the OCEA of the results of their audit and then the events of the meeting itself, I found myself getting a giant brain cramp. Some might say it couldn't have been too big, considering what was involved...
BUDGET, COPS AND JERKS
The shortest shorthand version of last night's meeting - we have a budget, we barely have a Police Department left and a couple members of the city council majority have demonstrated again that they don't really care what the residents - those fine folks they are supposed to serve - have to say. In fact, they are more than willing to spit back at folks who criticize them - a totally unacceptable behavior for a municipal leader. That's all you need to know, but there are those nasty details to deal with.
I thought we might be in for an interesting evening when I found five (5) television news vans parked outside the council chambers more than an hour before the event was scheduled to begin. I was right. By the time I dragged my weary old body to my car more than seven hours later I'd had about all the political rhetoric and staged sound bites that I could take. You can watch the entire painful proceeding via streaming video HERE. To navigate the site be sure you use the "jump to" feature, then drag the scroll bar to the specific point of interest.
FULL AND FOCUSED
The auditorium was packed, with the overflow crowd watching and listening to the proceedings from the porch. They could be heard clapping and cheering occasionally following more than a few of the speakers before the council. There were many employees in the building, including a large contingent of police officers, eager for a last minute reprieve to the destruction of their organization. They went home disappointed.
HYPOCRITE STIFLES ENTHUSIASM
Early on, when the crowd clapped and cheered for a couple of the early speakers during Public Comments, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer blew a gasket and scolded the crowd for their boisterousness. He told them that folks were afraid to speak for fear of jeering and that school children who came to the meetings were ashamed of the adults acting like children. Later he gave us a demonstration of what he meant when he and non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger chided and berated members of the OCEA from the dais. Talk about lack of professionalism! The hypocrisy was so deep you almost needed hip boots in the chambers! More on that later.
LOTS OF SPEAKERS, LOTS OF PASSION
The Public Comments segment took almost 90 minutes, with 33 speakers stepping up to address the council on a variety of issues. I'm not going to try to comment on every one, but Helen Nenadal led off with a passionate thank you to the residents of the city for their support in these troubled times.
ARTICULATE "JIFFY LUBE GUY"
Award-winning city mechanic, Gant Corum - one of those "Jiffy Lube Guys" that Colin McCarthy vilifies - stepped up and hit one out of the park, also thanking the residents of the city for their support. He's one of those waiting to hear the results of the RFP process to unfold - and the clock's ticking.
EPPERSON STEPS UP
Retired police lieutenant Clay Epperson, who recently had a long commentary published in the Daily Pilot, stood to speak on behalf of recently-departed Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley, and to beg the council to not destroy our excellent police organization. As it turned out, the council was wearing ear plugs.
IGNORING THE EXPERTS, CMPD RESTRUCTURED
The council, with relatively little debate, approved CEO Tom Hatch's plan to gut the Costa Mesa Police Department, ignoring the best professional advice available. He, and the council, chose to use as the cornerstone of their decision the pulled-from-the-air number of 125 sworn officers imposed on the process by "two members of the city council". We know that's the genesis of the number because Staveley told his troops that fact during his meeting with them a week ago. April 12, 2011, Staveley wrote a report to him defining his views on the staffing of the police department - he felt 160+ was a good number, but that 140 would be the barest minimum number that should be considered. Hatch's hand-picked consultants, Management Partners - which included in its stable of experts the former Police Chief in Brea, Mike Messina, a veteran cop with more than 35 years in law enforcement under his belt - suggested a minimum number of 136 sworn. And yet, here we are, with 125, to which will be added 5 positions via federal grant for 3 years and one restored Lieutenant slot for a total of 131. The department has not seen staffing numbers that low since the mid-1980s - when the population was nearly 40% smaller.
WHAT'S THE PLAN, MAN?
The discussion of how this reduction was to be executed was wishy-washy at best. Hatch seemed either unwilling or unable to describe how this plan will be executed, so they just moved on, apparently assuming it would just happen. I was seated near many members of the CMPD, who had a very troubled, confused look on many of their faces. It's bad enough to have their lives so affected by the decisions made at that moment, but to see the indecisiveness at the end of it certainly must have been frustrating for them.
$95 MILLION BUDGET
Again, with relatively little discussion on the budget - especially considering the magnitude of the issue and the lengthy multiple-meetings that have been held on it in the recent past - the council voted to approve Hatch's plan, but with the alternatives offered up to meet the capricious demands made by Righeimer at the Study Session last week. We now have a General Fund budget of just over $95 million - a number that is almost certainly going to get massaged with a sledgehammer in the second quarter of the fiscal year once the whole outsourcing debacle begins to kick in.
RIGHEIMER IS RUNNING THE SHOW
There seems to be absolutely no doubt about just who's running the show on the dais these days - regardless who signs the paperwork. Yep, the carpetbagger has taken over and, as resident and former council candidate Lisa Reedy stated so clearly, is running wild. Mayor Gary Monahan appears to have abdicated the power seat, if not officially, at least in practice, to Righeimer. There must be some OC GOP marching orders at play here. Righeimer may not have snatched the crown off Monahan's head yet, but he certainly is messing with it.
LEGAL FEES UP? BUDGET LESS!
Here's an irony for you. They approved the version of the budget that reduced the allocation for the legal fees from $1 million to just over $800,000, but earlier approved the Warrant in the Consent Calendar that showed the most recent bill to Jones & Mayer to be just over $120,000 - an annualized rate of $1.4 million. I doubt anyone in the room expects the legal fees to go down any time soon. Do these guys actually think nobody is watching this? Geez!
COUNT YOUR TOES, STEVE!
An amusing, and pathetic, sidebar occurred last night as Mensinger got into a discussion with Hatch about Park Rangers and Community Service Specialists (CSS). Over the past couple years, in an effort to balance earlier budgets, several of the non-sworn CSS positions were vacated and the incumbents laid off. Mensinger wanted to know how many were in the new budget and how they can be used. Hatch told him there was one Park Ranger slot filled and one vacant, plus 5 CSS slots approved. Mensinger wanted to know how many could be used as Park Rangers. There is no "Park Ranger" job - they are CSS slots filled to be Park Rangers and the pay grade and requirements are the same. For some reason, Mensinger just could not grasp the concept that there were 7 position and would remain 7 no matter how you sliced them. I wanted to stand up and yell for him to take off his shoes and count the toes, for goodness sake! And we wonder how his division of SunCal ended up in bankruptcy!
After midnight (!), before the budget was approved, the remaining 60 or so observers in the audience were forced to endure two irrelevant and unnecessary presentations. The first, by the smarmy Colin McCarthy in his role as the president of the Costa Mesa Taxpayer's Association - the vocal chords for the OC GOP in Costa Mesa - was a PowerPoint presentation showing a bundle of inaccurate and biased numbers with which they've been attempting to whip confused residents into a fiscal frenzy. There was NO reason for this presentation, particularly since it interfered with the real business of the council - to discuss and approve a budget!
LAME OCEA PRESENTATION
The second was a lame presentation by a representative of the Orange County Employee's Association of the Executive Summary of their recently-completed audit. There was no good reason for this to have been presented since it was only released the day before and the final audit was only made available to the City Tuesday morning. Yes, it should have been acknowledged and, yes, the announcement of a study session to discuss it should have been made, but the presentation should not have been approved. As is turned out, it was disastrous for the OCEA. In yet another tactical blunder, in my view, they chose not to fly down the author from San Francisco for the presentation and the nice young woman who made the pitch was shredded by Righeimer in an aggressive, unprofessional attack. He was joined, like a second mutt in a brace of pit bulls, by his pal, Mensinger, who took the opportunity to castigate OCEA spokeswoman Jennifer Muir. And, in an interesting bit of piling on, McCarthy stood to further denigrate the OCEA presentation when public comments were invited. It was like a bully convention, for goodness sake.
BUDGET, BUT AT A DEAR COST
So, dear readers, we've got a budget, but at the expense of the police department and public safety in our city. I know the men and women of the CMPD are going to continue to do their best to provide safe streets for all residents and visitors. I hope Hatch does, as he said was his plan, hire a new Police Chief shortly so the troops will not be operating with a leadership vacuum much longer. I have no idea how the latest Interim Police Chief, Dennis Kies, will do for the short time he will be around. Certainly, he will not try to implement any new initiatives during his short tenure. He'll be like a substitute teacher - here today, gone tomorrow. We'll see.
NO MORE "EVERY TUESDAY" MEETINGS!
On the positive side, I no longer have to plan my every waking moment around Tuesday meetings at City Hall. With the budget approved, that requirement gets reduced to every other Tuesday. Ah, like a vacation...