Friday, January 07, 2011

"There's Good News Tonight!"

WHO REMEMBERS HIM?
That title, the catch phrase from long-time radio newsman Gabriel Heatter, seems appropriate this evening.

MID-YEAR BUDGET REVIEW REPORT
The agenda for Tuesday evening's City Council Study Session was distributed this afternoon and i
t includes the Fiscal Year End 2010-2011 Mid-Year Budget Report. You can read that report HERE.

THINGS ARE NOT AS BAD AS WE THOUGHT!
The s
hort version of this report is - we're not in as deep financial doo doo as we expected! This is good news, indeed.

ALL MAJOR REVENUE SOURCES ARE UP!

From a revenue standpoint, Sales Tax is up 9.07%; Transient Occupancy Tax is up 3.77% and Property Tax is up 13.33%.

SALES TAX
The city consults with an outfit called Hinderliter de Llamas - which probably translates
to something like "Tail light of the Llamas" - to help with sales tax revenues analysis. Based on the analysis the staff recommends an adjustment to the budget of $4,456,000. Whew!

TOT
In the case of the Transient Occupancy Tax the staff is recommending an adjustment of $1,050,000.

PROPERTY TAX
Based on the Property Tax revenues and their analysis the staff recommends an adjustment of $550,000.

EXPENDITURES ARE DOWN

On the Expenditure side, significant savings have been realized in many areas.

Prior Year
(FY09-10) Labor Negotiations resulted in savings of $260,000.

Current Year (FY 10-11) Labor Negotiations resulted in savings projected to be $1,167,000.

Attrition Savings is projected to be $900,000.

Recreation Program Reductions will amount to $239,450.

Adjustments for Salary Accounts, for several reasons, will result in an additional budget cost of $1,175,000.

USE OF FUND BALANCE SEVERELY DIMINISHED
When the bud
get was prepared in June last year it was projected that we would need to use Fund Balance of $9.4 million. Through many of the efforts listed above and the negotiations with the employee associations and the higher amounts from various revenue sources the staff is currently projecting the use of fund balance of $1,387,192.

ATTACHMENT "C" IS VERY INTERESTING
All of this will be hashed out at the Study Session on Tuesday. Please take a minute to follow the link I provided above and read through Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young's excellent report and the accompanying charts. I found Attachment C, Budget to Actual Analysis - General Fund Expenditures by Department/Division, to be very interesting. The column on the far right edge of that chart provides a percentage of the funds budgets remaining for the last half of the year. 50% would be anticipated. In most cases the number is higher, but there are some line entries that jump out at you.

SOME NUMBERS LOWER
For example, the "Salaries and Benefits" lines for Police Administration, Fire Administration, Fire Protection and Engineering are all below that 50% number, in some cases well below it.

HOW WILL GOOD NEWS BE VIEWED?
It's going to be very interesting to see how this good news plays with certain new council members who have previously indicated that severe changes must be made to our fiscal management practices - particularly when it comes to salaries and benefits. Tuesday's meeting will give us a pretty good idea of just what kind of direction this new council wants to take our city. Some of the urgency of compensation reform may have been reduced by this good news. We'll see...

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Adios, Joe...

JOE BELL HANGS UP HIS SPURS
Well, tonight I'm bummed out. I just read the online issue of the Daily Pilot for Thursday and find that my old friend, Joe Bell, is retiring. Thursday's column will be his last after two decades of pumping out some really great stuff.

READ HIS LAST COLUMN

You can read Joe's final column HERE and Mike Reicher's accompanying article HERE. I won't attempt to paraphrase either of them - you can read the accounts for yourselves.

I'VE LONG ADMIRED HIS WORK
I have long admired the work Joe Bell has done, both during his time as a columnist for the Daily Pilot when he began presenting his views on local issues nearly twenty years ago and before that, too. Somewhere in our library I have a copy of his book written about the original Mercury astronauts, Seven Into Space, that I purchased while living in Houston, Texas a long, long time ago and well before I came to know him.

WE SHAR
E A FRIENDSHIP, BUT NOT OUR POLITICS
Joe and I view the world from very different vantage points. He, a lifelong liberal who proudly wears that label like epaulets on his shoulders, is confounded by positions on issues displayed by my fellow conservatives. Over the years I've chuckled at the reaction to many of Joe's columns by the local Republican hierarchy, as he would poke and prod them with skill, vigor and joy. His final column continues that tradition.

AMAZING DURABILITY
I've admired his ability - after a career as a journalist that has stretched six decades and as he turns the corner to his 90th birthday on July 4th - to continue to pump out such prescient prose for us all to consider. In recent years, when one of his columns struck a particular chord with me, I'd just pick up the telephone and chat with him about it.

REMEMBRANCES
Some of Joe's most memorable columns dealt with the loss of friends and pets, which might be redundant. I think there were as many columns that brought a lump to my throat as those that plastered a grin on my face. The word-pictures he painted for us about his friendships helped make me value my friendships even more.

HE COVERED THEM ALL
Over his long journalist career Joe has interviewed and written about the famous and the tragic. He wrote about every man's dream girl, Marilyn Monroe, during his days covering Hollywood. Among his many impressive journalistic accomplishments is the fact that he interviewed and wrote about Norma McCorvy - the "Jane Roe" in Roe v. Wade - during the whole chaotic situation that swirled around her and produced abortion reform back in the 1970s, and thirty years later when she renounced her pro-abortion stance and began actively campaigning for the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

A PATRIOT...
He
's a member of Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation who, as a Navy flier, did his part to defend our liberty in World War II. Those of you who are among his regular readers already know that.


A MENTOR...

While an instructor at UCI he hatched and nurtured a generation of excellent journal
ists, many of whom have passed through the pages of the Daily Pilot and other local publications. Among them is Bill Lobdell, current columnist and former editor of the Daily Pilot and reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

A FRIEND...
As an example of just what a small world this is, Joe and I also share a couple of other links in our lives. He was the best friend of one of my bosses - former Newport Beach councilman Don Strauss. And, his sister-in-law, Jill Angel (you may remember Jill as a CHP officer who did traffic reports on KNX 1070 radio a few years ago before being promoted to Sacramento), was a very dear friend of my best friend, Larry Moore. You regular readers recognize that name. Through those links and my admiration for his writing skills, Joe and I have become friends.

HE'S NOT DONE YET
I'm going to miss Joe's weekly column, but he's promised (threatened?) to avail himself of the Forum page when the spirit moves him. I hope that happens often. Recent local political events tell us that there will be plenty of ripe targets for his consideration.

FINISH THAT DARN BOOK!

So, as my friend, Joe Bell, closes
the door on this part of his life, I hope he finishes the book he has talked about for a decade and that he finds other ways to continue to display his exceptional literary skills.

ADIOS, MY FRIEND...
Adios, Joe... I'll look for the glow in the sky as they fire up the candles on your birthday cake on July 4th. It's just a darn good thing there's a fire station a couple blocks from your home.

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Mensinger Appointed To City Council

NO SURPRISE
To the surprise of no one and the disappointment of many, Costa Mesa Planning Commissioner Steve Mensinger was appointed to the seat vacated by Katrina Foley last month.

LUCK OF THE DRAW AND A SLAM DUNK
In a process that took two hours and saw 49 speakers stand to support one candidate or another - including one mother and two wives - when it came time to decide who would have the chance to make the first nomination the luck of the draw saw Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer pull #1out of the bag. He promptly nominated his pal and former business associate, Mensinger, who was elected on a 3-1 vote, with WendyLeece voting no.

HALF THE SPEAKERS WANTED MCEVOY
This was probably the most interesting selection process I've observed. Half of the
people who stood before the four members of the council charged with selecting a peer from the pool of eight candidates were in favor of Chris McEvoy. As you will recall, McEvoy finished a strong third in the November 2nd election, with nearly 11,000 votes - 26% of the votes cast. Many of those speaking in favor of his candidacy did so with much passion, recounting how he had impressed them during the campaign and that he was "one of them". McEvoy's mother stood to tell the council and the audience of the many wonderful qualities her son possesses - something many of us had figured out a couple years ago when he first ran for City Council. Those comments fell on deaf ears. McEvoy was the only applicant to stand and present reasons why he thought he was the best choice, acknowledging the need for a diversity of views on the council and that he didn't agree with any of them politically, but that he could certainly work with them.

FAMILY AND FOOTBALL PLAYERS PRAISE MENSINGER
As the comment period moved on several speakers rose to support Mensinger, including members of the Estancia High School football team, who arrived wearing their game jerseys. Coaches and parents of players also praised Mensinger, as did his wife. She addressed his many qualities, but did acknowledge that he can be a handful to live with. Robert Murtha, Sr., father of star running back Robert Murtha who had spoken earlier, stood to heap more praise on Mensinger, stating unequivocally that he would have beaten Righeimer if he had chosen to run in the past election, then praised him for his leadership in youth football.

RIGHEIMER THINKS HE'S IN CHARGE
During his little speech following his nomination of Mensinger, Righeimer went way, way beyond any border of appropriateness as he chided McEvoy's candidacy, indicating that, when compared to Mensinger, "he's not even close!" Righeimer went on and on, frequently stating, " I need him here..." referring to Mensinger. It became very clear that Righeimer thinks he is in charge on the dais, which should make for some very interesting meetings in the future.

MENSINGER COULDN'T WAIT TO SPEAK

Mensinger, like a horse in the
starting gate, was in such a hurry to address the council and audience that he almost didn't let City Clerk Julie Folcik swear him in - another one of those little nuisance formalities that he's going to probably try to stiff arm as we move forward - like the Brown Act.

HE WOULD RATHER C
OACH...
Mensi
nger thanked many people during his longish speech. Not that he actually expected to be appointed, but he did have a very lengthy speech prepared to help celebrate his 49th birthday Tuesday evening. He talked about his activities with youth sports in Costa Mesa and actually said he'd much rather be a coach than a council member. Now he tells us!

WORDS TO LIVE BY...
He acknowledged the big influence on his life former Ambassador George L. Argyros has had. Mensinger worked for him for ma
ny years. He did make what turned out to be an interesting statement. He said, "We need to put politics aside and solve problems." As the evening wore on it was clear that his pals on the dais forgot about that "putting politics aside" part... more on that in a minute.

NOW IT'S LEECE AGAINST THE GUYSSo, we now have a City Council of four kindred spirits - Eric Bever, Gary Monahan, Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger - and Wendy Leece. Unfortunately for Leece, she is almost certainly going to find herself on the short side of many 4-1 votes. The votes last night certainly demonstrated that division.

BUDGET STUDY SESSION TUESDAY
Before moving on to the commission appointments, let me observe that there will be a budget study session next Tuesday, the 11th, at which time the council will be brought up to speed on the precise condition of our city's finances. Finance gadfly Judi Berry spoke during public comments and trotted out some graphs that she says showed that the city had burned through over $50 million in cash over the past three years. Righeimer picked up on this and made it clear that he was gearing up to do something about it. During his "Mensinger" speech he mentioned a couple times that "we need people up here who can say 'no'". Look out, public employee unions - he's coming after you.

COMMISSION APPOINTMENTS NEXT
The meeting moved on to the
appointment of Planning and Parks and Recreation Commissioners. Both had rosters of excellent candidates, including some incumbents and some highly-qualified newcomers. Four Planning Commissioners were selected - three four-year positions and one two-year slot to fill Mensinger's unexpired term. Three Parks and Recreation Commissioners were selected.

DICKSON AND CLARK
Eric Bever nominated paralegal Robert Dickson, a frequent commenter on these pages and in the Daily Pilot blog in the past. He was seconded by Mayor Gary Monahan and chosen to fill one of the 4-year slots, 5-0. Then, curiously, Mensinger nominated current Planning Commission Vice Chair Sam Clark for the 2-year slot, which was seconded by Leece. He was also appointed on a 5-0 vote, but this certainly represents a backhand to Clark, who had every right to expect to be appointed to his own 4-year term.

SANCHO FITZPATRICK
Monahan then nominated incumbent Jim Fitzpatrick, who was seconded by Mensinger. No surprise there - Fit
zpatrick has been attached to Mensinger's hip like a barnacle for the past couple years. Leece asked City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow whether a decision had been reached about Fitzpatrick's eligibility to serve both on the Planning Commission AND the Sanitary District Board to which he was just elected in November. She hemmed and hawed and said she wasn't the person to make that decision, but that the Attorney General might be. She did say that if his positions were challenged and it was determined that he could not serve on both, then he would have to give up the position he held before accepting the most recent one - in this case, that meant he would have to give up the Sanitary Board seat. Monahan leaped to his defense and Fitzpatrick was re-appointed to a 4-year term on a 4-1 vote.

SALCEDO OVER MATHEWS
Leece then nominated Parks and Recreation Commissioner and GOP activist Jeff Mathews but, curiously, received no second. Righeimer then nominated Edward Salcedo, who was appointed to the remaining 4-year term, 4-1 - Leece voting no.


NEW PLANNING COMMISSION
The new Planning Commission will be incumbents Colin McCarthy, Fitzpatrick, Clark(briefly) and newcomers Dickson and Salcedo.

PARKS AND RECREATION COMMIS
SION INCUMBENTS OUSTED
Then came the nominations for the Parks and Recreation Commission. No incumbent whose term was up was returned to the commission! Leece nominated incumbent Terry Shaw, but received no second. Monahan nominated newcomer Dan Vozenilek, who was appointed 5-0. Mensinger nominated newcomer Dean Abernathy, who was appointed 4-1, with Leece voting no. Bever nominated Gary Peacock but received no second. Finally, to nobody's surprise, Righeimer nominated his campaign aide, Ethan Temianka, who was appointed with a 4-1 vote - Leece voting no. Vozenilek, Abernathy and Temianka will join Mathews and Kim Pederson on the commission. That means that former chairmen of the commission Mike Brumbaugh and Kurt Galitski join Shaw without a seat on the commission. So much for setting politics aside. It sure looks to me like the big Righeimer broom is sweeping aside anyone who might oppose his initiatives in the future.

AGENDA ITEMS SHUFFLED...
I almost forgot... Gary Monahan's i
nitiative to change the agenda for council meetings passed with only superficial discussion. The closed sessions will be held at the end of the meetings instead of before. There will be a new "Announcements" section immediately following the roll call. Council member comments will also be moved to the end, just before the reports by the City Attorney and City Manager and the 5:30 pre-meeting (where they used to be served a meal and discuss the agenda before the regular meeting) has been abandoned. They lost those meals due to budget considerations over a year ago.

DIGESTIN
G THESE CHANGES IS TOUGH
It's going to take a little time to digest the results of these appointments. It seems clear that Righeimer is moving to strengthen his position now that he's finally actually won an election. I suspect we're going to see immediate initiatives to take drastic measures with city finances some of which will almost certainly result in departures of senior city staffers in the near future. The specter of losing decades of experience seems not to bother this new batch of "leaders".

ADIOS, PUBLIC SAFETY?

I wouldn't be surprised to see moves made to outsource public safety to the county authorities in the near future. You may recall that the Costa Mesa Firefighters Association proposed to pay for a study of having the Orange County Fire Authority take over their jobs. No word has been heard about that since this past summer. With the leadership vacuum in the Costa Mesa Police Department there seems to be an oppo
rtunity for Righeimer and his pals to shed themselves of having to worry about their adversaries on the CMPD. Also watch for a move to dump the A.B.L.E program in what will be presented as a cost-saving move.

REPLACED A DOLT WITH A DEVIOUS GUY
I'm afraid that we've managed to replace the now-departed Allan Mansoor with a much more dangerous political ideologue - Jim Righeimer. Mansoor was dangerous, but a dolt - unable to actually affect the changes he wanted. Righeimer is much more dangerous because he's a crafty guy with great political connections - unless Scott Baugh's leadership of the OC GOP is successfully challenged. It won't be long until Righeimer's true intentions are known. At that time there are going to be several thousand Costa Mesans kicking themselves for ever electing this guy.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Lobdell: Clues To Shawkey/Smith Absence

LOBDELL INVESTIGATES
William Lobdell, former Los Angeles Times reporter, former editor and current columnist on the Daily Pilot, demonstrates to us that he's still got the chops for good investigative reporting in his column that appears in print this morning.


CLUES TO SHAWKEY AND SMITH ABSENCE
The colum
n, titled, " Chief's expense reports offer clues", quantifies some serious sleuthing Lobdell has been doing recently with "more than 200 pages of public documents", apparently including expense reports for Costa Mesa Police Chief Christopher Shawkey and his top aide, Captain Ron Smith. You can read the entire article HERE.

MISUSE OF CITY FUNDS?
It looks like Lobdell may be onto something with his analysis of the reports, which appear to present evidence of misuse of city credit cards for fuel purchases at places far remote from Costa Mesa, and in excessive amounts, to boot.

SMITH COUNTERSIGNED REPORTS
Apparently Smith was required to countersign the expense reports of his boss, Shawkey - which, Lobdell postulates - might be why both men were placed on leave together late last year. It seems c
urious for a subordinate to countersign expense reports for his boss.

LACK OF TRANSPARENCY BREEDS INVESTIGATIONS

I don't know whether any of the information Lobdell has presented represent real problems - it's possible they are legitimate expenses - but one reason a good reporter will look for these kind of things is the lack of information coming from the City on this issue. Unless and until the City provides an explanation it's very likely these kinds of investigations will continue - and more questions will be raised about the behavior of our public officials.

KUDOS TO LOBDELL

If the facts as Lobdell has presented to us are factual, then he deserves kudos for digging this information up and presenting to the public. He promises to "keep digging", and he's a guy with the right kind of shovel and knows how to find the right places to dig.

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Contemplating Steve Mensinger

AN ENIGMA
The other day I was thinking about Costa Mesa Planning Commissioner and City Council applicant, Steve Mensinger. He's quite an enigma for me.

HE HAS CONTRIBUTED MUCH
On the one hand, he's a big, confident g
uy with a successful business career and a terrific family. He's contributed a lot to our community through his activities in youth football where, some say, he's almost single-handedly resurrected it over the past couple years. I imagine much of his interest there is because his sons are now football-playing age.

A "MAN OF VISION" - HE SAYS
On the oth
er hand, he's used to calling the shots - directing others to do his bidding and admits that he just has vision going for him. He's a "big picture" guy, not bothered by the details of a problem, only getting it solved. He's a "man of action" - a "commander", not a consensus-builder. That, in my opinion, is a mixed blessing.

CREA
TED THIS SITUATION?
He's done a tour on the Planning Commission with his buddy, Jim Righeimer, and is now odds-on to join him on the City Council as an appointee to replace Katrina Foley for the remainder of her term. There are some who believe he cajoled Foley into running for the School Board and campaigned aggressively for her so he could have a shot at her council seat without having to bother with the inconvenience of an election, where he would have to convince the electorate of his worthiness.

"VISION" WOULD BE WELCOME
If placed on the
city council he'll go from the frustration of having to deal with the minutia of planning issues to the big table - where a man of action with vision could certainly contribute to our city in a major way. In my opinion, our city has recently lacked such people - at least, those who could implement plans as part of the majority. Foley has vision and the energy and tenacity to present ideas, but not a majority to get them implemented.

A RULE-BENDING BULLY
Here's my problem with Steve Mensinger. In his personal life - as chronicled in news articles about him flashing a "Mike Carona" badge combined with threats - and during his tour on the Planning Commission, he has demonstrated that he is a bully, more than willing to throw his weight around to get his way. He's been viewed time after time berating applicants and attempting to micro-manage projects presented to the commission. He also occasionally treats applicants and the staff like they are serfs. In fact, at a recent public meeting he persistently chided Assistant City Manager - soon to be City Manager - Tom Hatch. He also seems to find the need to follow the rules of conduct as prescribed by The Brown Act to be an unnecessary nuisance. In my view, these are big problems. The City Council is no place for a person who thinks this kind of behavior is acceptable.

REGGIE BUSH AS AN EXAMPLE

I want to remind Mr. Mensinger of the recent plight of his beloved University of Southern
California Trojans, in which the transgressions of one football player (Reggie Bush) and his family led to the sanctioning of the entire program and cost them recruits and treasure because they will not be able participate in bowl games for two years. This is a perfect example of the damage one player - no matter how much talent that player has - can cause if he's unwilling to understand and follow the rules. Mensinger, if he is appointed to the City Council, will be part of a team and a spokesman for our city. As such, he needs to follow the rules. If he's not willing to do that he should withdraw his candidacy and look for a role in which to serve the city that fits his particular skill set better.

I EXPECT HIM TO BE APPOINTED
I expect Mensinger will be appointed to the City Council on Tuesday and that he will bring "vision" to their deliberations. I worry, though, that he will be frustrated by the requirements of The Brown Act and find ways to circumvent the open meeting law to the detriment of the residents of our city and, potentially, create even more legal problems for our city.

TELL HIM "THANKS" - THEN APPOINT ANOTHER

Because there is a large and talented pool of applicants available for the council to consider
as they decide on the replacement for Foley on Tuesday, I think they should thank Steve Mensinger for his community spirit, encourage him to remain involved in youth sports - and choose another candidate for the council seat.

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