Decorum Takes A Vacation
A week ago today, while nursing the infirmities guaranteed by my most recent birthday and recovering from a little surgical procedure, I tried to watch my tape of the Costa Mesa City Council meeting from Tuesday, September 6th. The combination of needing to apply ice to my wound and the anesthetic getting flushed out of my system caused me to take twelve hours over two days to watch what was already an eight-hour marathon session.
I blamed my impatience on my general discomfort as I watched that session, figuring I was seeing it through a drug-induced stupor. But, I've viewed it all again and changed my mind. I think I was impatient because this meeting may have been one of the most distasteful and frustrating I've observed in the past decade.
I watched as decorum on the dais took a vacation, the low-light of which was non-elected council member Steve Mensinger getting into a shouting match with speaker Greg Ridge. Ridge criticized Mensinger for voting, in a previous meeting, to give Costa Mesa Pop Warner Football $10,000 to pay a debt it incurred all on its own while Mensinger's wife, Robin, is an officer of the Pop Warner Board and responsible for fund raising. Steve Mensinger took exception to Ridge's comments, saying his wife WAS NOT involved in fund raising for Pop Warner. I captured that segment below.
YET, HERE SHE IS...
However, you can read two links that refute that argument. The link HERE, shows her named as a member of the Executive Board.
The link HERE, identifies her as "Fundraising/Sponsorship Coordinator". These images were captured from the Costa Mesa Pop Warner Football web site yesterday, Tuesday.
BULLY IN ACTION
Clearly, Mensinger was peeved at being criticized for his part in the discussion of that $10,000. In my view, in that previous council meeting he should not have been involved in the discussion AT ALL, much less taking the lead in the request/demand for the money. He presented his version of the circumstances and there was nobody left on the city staff to refute them - all the other parties have either retired or moved on to greener, less hostile, pastures. He bullied the council into paying a debt for which the city had no legal responsibility.
WENDY CALLS THEM OUT
I watched as Wendy Leece called-out Mensinger and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer for texting on the dais during the meeting. You can hear Mensinger file a "cross complaint" for criticizing him. Have I mentioned that he doesn't like criticism? You can watch that short segment below.
STEVE ON "WALKABOUT"
Following that incident, which occurred early in the proceedings, I watched Mensinger go on frequent "walkabouts", wandering out of the chambers - maybe to make his phone calls and send his text messages - throughout the evening. It was so bad that at one point outsourced City Attorney Tom Duarte had to briefly call a halt to the proceedings because there was no quorum - another member had also wandered away!
PUSHING GAZSI INTO A CORNER
Later, during the discussion of the report from the Homeless Task Force, Mensinger pushed brand new Police Chief Tom Gazsi - on the job for about six hours - into a corner by demanding that he either provide a Park Ranger or a Security Guard at Lions Park immediately. Eventually, Gazsi guaranteed there would be a presence there "in a month". You can see that exchange below.
FLEXING HIS MUSCLE
Later in the evening Mensinger hailed Costa Mesa City Employees Association President Helen Nenadal, who was sitting in the audience near the back of the auditorium, and TOLD her to get the air-conditioning fixed in Hatch's office because he was too hot in there recently. That request should have been directed to Hatch, and probably not in open session. Mensinger was just flexing his muscles, trying to show Nenadal who's boss - which he is NOT.
OVERSTEPS HIS AUTHORITY
The point here is that Mensinger constantly oversteps his authority on the council. As clearly stated in this extract from the Municipal Code, any direction to the staff MUST come through the City Manager/CEO - that's Tom Hatch. Some members of this council, especially Mensinger, have just elbowed Hatch aside and are providing specific direction to staff on a variety of issues. This needs to stop - immediately.
HERE'S THE RULE
The Costa Mesa Municipal code is quite specific about the lines of authority. Here's the entry from the Municipal Code that addresses this:
The city council and its members shall deal with the administrative services of the city only through the city manager, except for the purpose of inquiry, and neither the city council nor any member thereof shall give orders to any subordinates of the city manager; provided, however, that the manager and the council may vary the provisions of this section by the establishment of contrary policies.THEY JUST DON'T GET IT
And hereby lies the problem. Mensinger, and to a similar extent, Righeimer, just don't get it. There are rules of decorum, lines of authority and established policies and procedures in place to protect the rights of the residents of our city. Those rules are designed to provide the framework for municipal actions. They both act like they can just make up new rules as they go along. Mensinger, in particular, is - in my view - temperamentally unsuited for the role of a public servant. I think it's that "servant" part that is the problem. He's used to having them, not being one.
HE NEEDS TO LISTEN AND LEARN
Look, I think Steve Mensinger is probably a really great guy. Clearly, he played a huge role in resurrecting youth football in our city - I've said that before. But municipal governance is an entirely different ballgame - pun intended. Yes, we need his business acumen and energy. Yes, we need his deep roots in the community. But, most importantly, we need him to understand that you can't just flail around like a bull in a china shop in City Hall, making unilateral decisions and causing damage to the very fiber of this city. He needs to quit spitting back at speakers trying to provide a opinion to him and the other council members. He needs to just calmly sit there and listen to the residents of this city. He didn't get 12,997 votes like Righeimer or 10,846 that young Chris McEvoy received last year. Mensinger got 3, one each from the three other men on the council. Perhaps if he'd had to walk precincts, gathering votes one at a time, instead of simply being appointed, he'd have a greater appreciation for the opinions of the voters. If he is to be an effective leader of this city he needs to learn to negotiate, not dictate. That learning process has started and we hope he's smart enough to understand it.