End To A Chaotic First Quarter
Tuesday, March 15, 2011, the Costa Mesa City Council will have their final council meeting of the first quarter of the year - a period in the history of this city that has been marked with turmoil.
CHANGE/PACE CREATES CHAOS
The first quarter of this calendar year found a new dynamic on the council. Wendy Leece was re-elected despite some last-minute dramatic attempts by the fat cats of the Orange County Republican Party to affect the election because they got their noses out of joint for her vote on the collective bargaining agreements in the fall. Funny, nobody criticized Gary Monahan for his vote on the same issue.
Jim Righeimer was finally elected to public office after failing several times in the past. He was selected by his peers on the dais as Mayor Pro Tem, to be the right-hand guy of Monahan in his most recent role as Mayor.
Righeimer's runnin' buddy, Steve Mensinger, was appointed to the council to fill the vacancy created after he sweet-talked Katrina Foley into running for a seat on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board to which she was elected in November. Despite his early denials of such a plan, after she resigned her council seat he applied for the it and was appointed, thereby avoiding a nasty election where the voters would actually have a chance to get to know him a little before he began controlling their lives.
LOCK-STEP SUPER MAJORITY
That leaves the council with a "super majority" of Monahan, Righeimer, Mensinger and Eric Bever with Leece turning out to be a lone voice in the wilderness on most issues.
We entered the first quarter of the year with huge holes in the municipal leadership. Marc Puckett was not replaced as Finance Director at a time when the city has been in extreme fiscal distress. The Fire Department has been without senior leadership, with retired Fire Chief Mike Morgan moving to the same job in Newport Beach and no bodies in the Deputy Fire Chief nor Fire Marshall positions. None of those slots will be officially filled until the issue of contracting with the Orange County Fire Authority for our fire and emergency medical service is resolved. Police Chief Chris Shawkey remained only a memory as he was placed on administrative leave for reasons never made clear. He eventually resigned last week, which now officially leaves his position vacant and the subject of a search to fill it.
And, City Manager Allan Roeder announced his retirement to be effective last Friday. His assistant, Tom Hatch, was immediately named to replace him.
The new council's first move was to dismantle ABLE, the joint powers agency with Newport Beach that has been the model for such programs around the country. It's clear that public safety is much less important to the majority on the council than their image as "budget crusaders". You can read officer/pilot Rob Dimel's commentary from the Daily Pilot HERE.
SIX-MONTH NOTICES DELAYED A WEEK
After that the new council launched itself into a full-court press on the budget shortfall by deciding to outsource every job they could - BEFORE any kind of analysis had been done. As the dust settled following the original dust-up more than 200 employees - 43% of the total - were anticipating receiving six-month layoff notices this week. In a brief memo to the staff Hatch - now designated as Chief Executive Officer of the City - announced today that the process for issuing those notices didn't get completed this week, but he expects it to happen next week. So, one more week of angst and trepidation for roughly half the staff.
MOVING WITH TOO MUCH HASTE
I know I'm not the only person in this city who believes the new council is moving much too fast with their plans to outsource jobs under the guise of saving money. Anyone paying attention realizes that this is the only alternative left open to Righeimer and his pals to accomplish "pension reform" during his term of office and save face with his Orange County Republican Party cronies. Since he can't negotiate a new deal he's going to take the "easy way" out and just get rid of the employees who have those pensions, one way or the other. He can get rid of a quarter of the "problem" by contracting with the Orange County Fire Authority. The Costa Mesa firefighters would go to the OCFA and take their pension obligations with them. The rest of the staff will get the old municipal stink-eye - be assessed as possible candidates for outsourcing. And, there goes those nasty pensions with them.
WENDY'S REQUESTS FOR RE-HEARING TUESDAY
So, the agenda for Tuesday's meeting is a short one. Perhaps the most controversial issues will be Wendy Leece's requests for a review of two items recently passed - the request to send a letter to the head of the Orange County EMS program to evaluate the possibility of private paramedic services and the approval of the outsourcing scheme. These will be short and not-so-sweet. Leece doesn't have the votes and it's unlikely that her peers will care what reasons she brings forward for her request. Speakers will likely be limited to addressing only the request for a re-hearing - not the re-hearing itself. We'll see.
Of course, there's always the "council member comments" section at the end of the meeting. This is where they spring new schemes on those of us paying attention. We'll be watching.
LEECE AND RIGHEIMER ON FOX NEWS SUNDAY NIGHT
This Sunday, March 13, 2011, Leece and Righeimer will appear together on Fox News at 10:00 p.m. to discuss the outsourcing scheme. It should be worth watching. I'll report on their performance. It's possible that they will be preempted by more earthquake/tsunami news.
THE BIG ONE...
Speaking of which, you may wish to read this essay I wrote a few years ago following Hurricane Katrina. The passage of time has dated some of the assumptions, but when I researched and wrote this as a possibility the Japanese earthquake/tsunami we had yesterday is precisely what I had in my mind's eye.