Friday, March 11, 2011

End To A Chaotic First Quarter

LAST COUNCIL MEETING OF THE 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 CHAO
S
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.

RIGHEIMER
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.




MENSINGER
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.



LEADERS
HIP VACUUM
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.

ROEDER DEPARTURE
And, City Manager Allan Roeder announced his retirement to be effective last Friday. His assistant, Tom Hatch, was immediately named to replace him.




DESTROYING ABLE
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.

DON'T BLINK!
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.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pavement Management Overview

AS PROMISED...As promised, we now have more information for you on the presentation last Tuesday by Peter Naghavi, Public Services Director, and Ernesto Munoz, City Engineer.

NOW AVAILABLE ON CITY WEB SITE

Today the entire PowerPoint presentation has been uploaded to the City website and can be viewed HERE. If you wish to view the entire Study Se
ssion, including the OCFA presentation AND the Pavement Management Overview click HERE.

REPORT IS EASY TO UNDERSTAND

The Pavement Management Overview is an excellent p
resentation of the state of Costa Mesa's streets and alleys and provides plenty of easy-to-understand detail.

PAVEMENT CONDITION INDEX (PCI)
When you go to the link above you'll learn that each street and alley is evaluated using established criteria that generates a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) for each pavement section. His chart, one of many in the overview, shows the condition of our streets based on their PCI.

TAKE A FEW MINUTES...
I encourage you to take just a few minutes to follow the link to the overview and scroll through it. If there are questions you have, go to the link to the video clip of the study session, click on the second segment and listen to the excellent presentation and the Q & A with the council members. Among the very informative charts you'll find is one showing just how much it costs
, per square foot, to repair our streets depending on their condition.

MORE DOLLARS = MORE REPAIRS
This summary, also taken from the overview, shows the Findings and Recommendations, including the need to budget around $5 million each year for the next 7 years to raise the PCI level for all our streets to a higher level. As in many things in life, fixing our streets is simply a
function of having enough dollars allocated to do the work. The more we spend the quicker the streets get fixed.

MOST OF THIS IS ALREADY "CONTRACTED"

Most of this work, by the way, is already being contracted out. City staffers do pothole repair and minor, temporary maintenance fixes, but the big jobs are sent out to bid and contracted out.

THANKS

Thanks to Peter Naghavi and Ernesto Munoz for providing this excellent report to the council and to all of us so we can better understand what's involved in keeping our streets and alleys in good repair.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

OCFA Could Save $20 million & Pavement Report

ORANGE COUNTY FIRE AUTHORITY PROPOSAL
Tuesday, at their study session - which was moved to the council chambers due to the large turnout - the Costa Mesa City Council heard a representative from the Orange County Fire Authority, (OCFA) briefly discuss their proposal to take over the fire and emergency medical services for the city. I've discussed the proposal before and gave you a link to the proposal. But, to keep you from having to plow back through the archives, you can read the staff report HERE and the proposal HERE.

BOTTOM LINE - $20 MILLION SAVINGS OVER 5 YEARS
The bottom line in this presentation was that the OFCA feels it can save Costa Mesa $20
million over a 5 year term, depending on which option is chosen.

MANY QUESTIONS REMAINED TO BE ANSWERED
After all was said and done, the council took more time asking questions - to be responded to in the future - than the staff and OCFA representative did with the presentation. Among those questions asked, but not answered, last night were:

Mayor Gary Monahan asked for more details on:
How is the City Insurance Rating (ISO) affected by this change?

Wanted a broader explanation of the manning standards.
How will our current mutual aid agreements be folded in?
What about paramedic transport - costs to residents?
How will Plan Check be handled, delayed and can it be streamlined?
Request was made for information about other contract cities? 5-year projections.
Different apparatus use and re-assignment.
What about
Personnel costs? Broader explanation required. Sick leave, vacation accrual, PERS costs.
They want a breakdown of the improvements in facilities required, who would pay for it.
Facilities life expectancy - need detail on work required and who pays for it.

Eric Bever w
anted more information on:
Including essential services in cost comparisons - HR, etc.
"Like for Like" quote when comparing efficiencies.

Response times comparison - CMPD vs. OCFA
Asset tracking for depreciation value.
Pension impacts on CMFD staff transferred to OCFA
CERT program training included?
Turnarou
nd time for Plan Check and cost basis?
Does rate include the fact that Costa Mesa is not bordered by Wild Land?

Jim Righeimer asked for explanations on:
Paramedic assessment units
Mapping data to calculate response times
Breakdown on cost savings between Options 1 & 2

What do you pay your firefighters?
20 year agreement with 10 year trigger - how does that work?
What are the $851,000 in "other" costs
How are pensions handled?
Fire prevention services - compare our charges to OCFA charges
How is transfer cost calculated?
Pension sho
rtage - $78 million. How do we know that we're not picking up part of that cost.
How are you presently handling the pension issue?

Wendy Leece asked for further explanation on:

Apartment inspection fees?
Dispatch process - potential time delays
Benefit of the front-end paramedic system you use
How will our firef
ighters be placed? Can they continue to work in city
How do you handle Fourth of July?
Effect of closing Station 6? Who is served by it?
Preparedness for terrorist attacks for Fairgrounds and South Coast Plaza
Are options set in concrete? Flexibility?
Helicopter response - Fullerton based. Timing

In addition to the above, Steve Mensinger wanted information on the following:
Reserve firefighter program
Dispatch - cost benefit
Historical growth info on CMFD 10 years
OCFA historical growth 10 years (Comparison to similar cities)

DETAILED REPORT DUE IN 4-6 WEEKS
CEO Tom Hatch reminded the council that this is just the start of the process and that any other questions from the council or public should be forwarded to Interim Assistant City Manager Terry Matz. It will take 4-6 w
eeks to develop the detailed analysis requested by the council.

COSTA MESA FIREFIGHTERS PAID FOR STUDY
Just a reminder... this report from the OCFA was requested and paid for by the Costa Mesa Firefighters Association. First, that organization wanted to have a credible assessment done of our fire and emergency medical services and the OCFA is the only option for that kind of assessment. That assessment could be used by the council to determine if, indeed, they might want to contract with the OCFA to provide these services. The second reason was to glean ideas from the report on possible ways to improve our fire and emergency medical operations and still maintain our own fire department.

FIREFIGHTERS WILL BE NEGATIVELY IMPACTED

The study shows, and representatives of the CMFD acknowledge, that by shifting to the OFCA almost all our current firefighters would be negatively impacted, both from a wage and ben
efit standpoint. It is my understanding that the CMFD already knew that part of the equation BEFORE they suggested the study, but went ahead with the suggestion to try to help the city get over the current financial crisis. This fact is overlooked in all the inflammatory rhetoric being screamed around town these days.

PAVEMENT REPORT
The sec
ond item on the agenda was the presentation by Public Services Director Peter Naghavi and Ernesto Munoz on the status of our roads and alleys. Several council members complimented both men on the quality of the report, which I agree was an excellent presentation. Unfortunately, no staff report was available to the public. I'm trying to get my hands on a copy so I can give you more details in a future report.

MORE LATER...
Much of the discussion involved the formula for determining the condition of our paved roadways and the way the schedules of maintenance is created. More on all that later - I just couldn't write fast enough Tuesday evening.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Shawkey Finally Out & Hispanic Population Grows

CHRIS SHAWKEY RESIGNS
Tuesday afternoon I wondered why Joseph Serna, Daily Pilot reporter par excellence, was a little late to the city council study session. When I finally got home from the meeting later that evening I found out why. Serna had been putting the finishing touches on his article titled, "Costa Mesa Police Chief Resigns". Yikes! You can read Serna's article HERE.

CURIOUS CASE IS NOW EVEN MORE SO
So, after all these months of being on paid administrative leave Chief Christopher Shawkey has finally resigned. In a
case that has been curious from the very beginning, the timing of his resignation only two days after the retirement of City Manager Allan Roeder is one more example. Shawkey earned more than $200,000 in salary and his benefits package had him at nearly $300,000 in total compensation.

NO REASON GIVEN

It is unlikely that we will ever know the reason for his leave and subsequent resignation, which only leaves the rest of the police department and the residents of this city scratching their heads. This is yet another top department manager who has dropped off the roles under strange circumstances.


SEARCH IS ON - GOGERTY STAYS AT HELM

According to Sern
a's article, CEO Tom Hatch will immediately begin a search for a replacement for Shawkey. Meanwhile, captain Les Gogerty will remain as interim chief.

CENSUS RES
ULTS MAKES ME SMILE
Then, in an adjacent article in the Daily Pilot online, I found a piece by Managing Editor, John Canalis titled, "Census: Hispanic Population Grows In Newport-Mesa" and just had to chuckle at the reaction this is going to evoke in a certain Mesa North household at the crack of dawn when a certain community gadfly and our racist laureate stumbles out to the front lawn to grab his Daily Pilot. He's going to flip that page open, take one look and probably go into shock. Sorry, but I just can't stop smiling...

NOW NEARLY 36%
Acco
rding to Canalis' article, HERE, Costa Mesa's Hispanic population increased from 31.8% in 2000 to 35.8% in 2010. Newport Beach saw a greater than 50% increase in its Hispanic population, from 4.7% to 7.2%.

DECADE OF ANTI-HISPANIC RHETORIC WASTED

So, after a de
cade of ranting and raving about the brown skinned folks among us, and writing essay after racist essay and blog post after blog post, our old buddy, The Mouth From Mesa North, finds himself surrounded by even greater numbers of Hispanics than when he began his methodical campaign to expunge them from our borders more than a decade ago. This irony is just too, too sweet. It looks like the only way he's going to get any peace of mind is to move to some part of the country where the Hispanics represent a much smaller percentage of the population. Might I suggest Idaho, where he could cozy up to like-minded folks like the Aryan Brotherhood? I'll buy the one-way bus ticket.

COSTA MESA GREW SLIGHTLY - NEWPORT BEACH UP 21
.6%!
Canalis also mentioned that Costa Mesa's total population grew only 1,236, from 108,724 to 109,960 (1.1%) and Newport Beach jumped 21.6%, from 70,032 to 85,186 - due mainly to the annexation of Newport Coast and Santa Ana Heights.


THE BALL'S IN OUR COURT
What these census numbers mean is that, rather than trying to force the Hispanic population into some kind of sub-class in our local society, we'd darn well better be working on
ways to help them assimilate. We need to do a much better job of educating all those young brown people because they are very soon going to be the majority in this state and they're going to vote.

HOW WILL WE MANAGE THESE CHANGES?
It's goin
g to be very interesting to see how our communities react to these census numbers. How, for example, will the Newport Mesa Unified School District adjust their teaching methods to educate a growing Hispanic population? How will our new police chief handle what will likely be a growing gang presence in Costa Mesa? And, how will the new Economic Development Czar (when he's finally appointed) try to market Costa Mesa with a shrinking white population?

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Council To Hear OCFA Proposal Today

OCFA TO PITCH THEIR PROPOSAL TODAY
Just a little reminder that the Costa Mesa City Council, at its study session at 4:30 this afternoon, will hear from representatives of the Orange County Fire Authority about their proposal to take over fire and emergency medical services for the city.

WHO WILL SHOW UP?
I have no idea what kind of a turnout they expect, but Conference Room 1A is a pretty small venue. The last study session had to be shifted to the council chambers due to the size of the crowd.

TOO MANY "UNKNOWNS
"
There are so
me pretty large holes in this proposal that will need to be addressed. Among them is the extent and cost of "repairs" necessary for every fire station in the city before the transition can take place. Some of those may be necessary and some may simply be frills - I don't know.


LACK OF SENIOR LEADERSHIP IS TROUBLING

While I understand the interest in this proposal - paid for by the Costa Mesa Firefighte
rs Association - but I'm very uneasy about it. We currently have no senior leadership in the Costa Mesa Fire Department. We are without a Fire Chief, a Deputy Fire Chief and a Fire Marshall, each of which would certainly be deeply involved in ANY consideration of this nature. Those leadership vacancies, and the pace at which the new council seems determined to move on "change", makes me very uncomfortable for the future of this city.

RIGHEIMER "PLACING BLAME"
At the last council meeting Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer waved a copy of the proposal around from the dais, saying "We didn't ask for this, they did!", referring to the firefighters. Firefighters association President Tim Vasin stood and reminded Righeimer that the reason they offered to pay for this proposal is that there are very few resources available to any city that's interested in having an assessment of their fire operations done. The proposal can be used as a consultant report and provide guidance to the city in any possible re-structuring of the organization. That would be an excellent idea if we had senior leadership in place - but we don't.

THEY DON'T CARE
However, I doubt very seriously that Righeimer and his buddies are concerned about that. Their goal is to get rid of the pension obligation being carried by ALL employees, including the firefighters. Shifting that burden to the county organization would be just fine with them - we'd just have to write a check to the county for services like he does for his gardener and be done with it.

NOT A GOOD DEAL FOR THE
FIREFIGHTERS
This proposal doesn't seem to be a particularly good deal for the firefighters. Most, if not all, will have to take a cut in pay and their contributions for medical and retirement will be greater - maybe more than 10%. It's likely that every member of the organization will have a net decrease in their paychecks approaching 20%.

A TWO-DECADE OBLIGATION
This proposal is for 20 years, with the first and only "opt out" benchmark coming at 10 years. So, if the decision is made to move forward with this it will lock the city into this contract for at least a decade. It's unlikely any of the current council will still be on the dais by that time, although it looks like Gary Monahan is determined to stay up there forever.

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Monday, March 07, 2011

The Beginning Of The Tom Hatch Era

HATCH'S MEMO
Sunday new CEO Tom Hatch sent out a memo to the city staff updating them on the state of things right now and his plans for the immediate future. Here is how that memo began:

Fellow City Staff,

It is been a difficult week for the entire City organization. It is hard to image a time when more change was happening all at the same time. The massive change includes: Allan Roeder retiring, the beginning of a complete organizational review of all functions, a serious budget situation, outsourcing decisions by the City Council, the need to develop and release Request For Proposals (RFP) for services, leadership/staffing voids in almost every department, new City Council Members wanting to learn about the organization and tour facilities, potential state raids on our redevelopment funds, investigations of various issues, new work expectations by City Council, new projects needing funding, City Council Working Groups, part-time and consultant assistance in the organization, public anger at local government pensions, PERS rate increases, many press agencies wanting information on our organization and focusing their attention on our operations, new City Attorney, letters on new service delivery options, dissolution of ABLE, need to hire a consultant to design a new website, posting of our 2010 total compensation on website (soon), our unfunded PERS liability, significant Banning Ranch development project needing review, and on and on. Even with all of these issues, my feeling is that the community continues to receive quality public services and your professional focus and effort is appreciated.


YIKES!!
My immediate reaction to that paragraph was Yikes! With 23 individual issues being addressed, that is one HUGE bucket of stuff to deal with right off the bat! He went on to discuss some issues in greater detail, but the memo is long, so I'll just paraphrase him in some of the more important points.

OUTSOURCING RFPS
He discussed the process and timing of the generation of the Request for Proposals (RFPs) for those areas previously identified for possible outsourcing and gave Department Directors the responsibility for taking the lead on the generation of those RFPs, with a goal of releasing them by Friday, March 18, 2011. We have no way of knowing how Wendy Leece's request to review that issue for possible re-hearing will affect the timing.

LAYOFF NOTICING
He told the staff that the six month noticing process is in the works and that it is anticipated that the noticing will begin before Friday, March 11, 2011. There's a lot to be considered - bumping rights, meeting with the employee associations, legal review, etc.

CHANGING WORKING HOURS
Hatch also said that some members of the City Council have expressed a desire to have the staff work a more traditional 8 a.m.-5 p.m. schedule. I have no idea where that came from, but I wonder how that will affect the service levels as the staff is reduced.


IMPROVING COMMUNICATIONS

He is apparently concerned about internal and external communications so he wants to centralize the effort of improving communications in the CEO's Office. He talked about creating a Communications and Marketing Division within the CEO's Office.

PART-TIME INTERIM ASSISTANT CITY
MANAGERS
Hatch announced that Tamara (Tammy) Letourneau as a lead consultant for the organizational review of the Police Department. She apparently has been a former City Manager in both Sierra Madre and Yorba Linda and will be working a couple days per week out of Hatch's office as an Interim Assistant City Manager. He also affirmed that Terry Matz will also be a part-time Interim Assistant City Manager and will serve as his second in command.

BUDGET HEARINGS BEGINNING
He also announced that the Finance Department is scheduling Budget Hearings for individual departments over the next three weeks. It's that time of the year again.

A HUGE JOB AHEAD
In my view, Tom Hatch is a personable, smart, highly skilled and very experienced guy, but he is going to have his hands full. If you read his first paragraph you'll understand the enormity of his job today. Even with a full staff it would be difficult to get all those things done in a timely fashion.

BIGGER JOB - CONTROLLING THE COUNCIL
However, again in my view, all these individual challenges pale when compared to his biggest job - keeping this new, impatient City Council from driving us into ruin through their blind allegiance to political dogma sent down from the OC GOP. If Hatch is not able to keep these guys in check - to keep them from violating the Brown Act as they may have done over this past weekend, for example - then our city is in a world of hurt. This council, which is being driven by the agenda of Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger, must understand that they CANNOT try to run this city like a private business, where they have the final word. There are laws that are in place to protect resident's rights, but these guys seem more than willing to ignore them.

COSTA MESA NOT BELL, BUT...
Costa Mesa will NOT become another "Bell", as some folks speculate. That won't happen here because there are too many concerned residents paying attention and speaking out. However, it is entirely possible that mischief with an even more significant impact could be perpetrated on our city by these guys if we're not careful.

DISCARDING POLICIES WILLY-NILLY?
For example, they are going to review "all policies and procedures", but it's not clear whether this means that Eric Bever - the lead person on this "working group" is simply going through the manuals and tear out offending pages, or whether this will be a transparent activity where residents have a chance to see what's happening and voice their opinions.

RIGHEIME
R HAS NO "MANDATE"
As mentioned before here, Righeimer seems to feel that if "only" a couple hundred people jam the council chambers to speak on an issue, then the remainder of the 116,000 or so people living in our city either agree with him or must not care because they're not in attendance! That's a political expedient and very self-serving, but very obtuse, view of things. I wonder if it's going to take thousands of people standing in the parking lot with burning torches and pitchforks when controversial issues are discussed to get Righeimer to understand that his recent election DID NOT give him a mandate to destroy our city.

BE ALERT, FOR GOODNESS SAKE!

I suppose I don't really have to continue to say it, but I think we cannot take our eyes off these guys for a second! It certainly appears that they arrive at meetings with their minds already made up on very critical issues. Certainly, in their first couple months of governance they've demonstrated no interest at all in hearing from the public. At least one of them seems quite content to read and send text messages while on the dais and takes no interest in public opinion while doing so. And, this is all compounded by the change putting council member comments and suggestions at the very end of the meetings, insuring that very few folks will be in the auditorium to hear them.

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