Friday, May 13, 2011

Weekend Cud For You To Chew

JAIL OPERATIONS RFP ISSUED
A press r
elease was issued Friday announcing the release of the very first "outsourcing" Request For Proposals (RFP) - for the operations of the Costa Mesa Jail. You can read all 36 pages of it HERE.


***

COSTA MESA CREDIT RATING DOWNGRADED
Late in the day Friday, the 13th (appropriate?), the City distributed another press release. This one had the "happy" title, "Moody's downgrades City of Costa Mesa's ratings, citing volatile sales tax revenue and low reserves" - Whew! You can read the press release HERE, including the report from Moody's explaining the reason for the downgrade.

WHAT THE?...
My first reaction was, "Oh, great! I guess the sky really is falling!" So, I called Bobby Young, Budget and Research Officer, for an explanation. As always, he patiently gave me the straight scoop in language a non-numbers guy can understand. He told me that nobody from the City requested this review by Moody's, but that mention was made of our recent notoriety nationally, which prompted them to take a little peek. Thanks, Jim Righeimer, for plastering our city all over the national news!

NO BIG DEAL

First, there is n
othing to get excited about. The drop in the ratings, as indicated on the press release, was not a surprise to the folks in the Finance Department. Our rating had been "Aa1", a high rating, and was lowered to "Aa2", a slight downgrade. For an explanation of the Moody's ratings visit the Wikipedia page that explains it, HERE. According to Young, this will not significantly affect our ability to do business.

FUEL FOR THE FIRE
That being said, I won't be surprised if one or more council members use this downgrade as fuel for their "outsourcing" fire. It will be interesting to see which one brings it up, or if they have their designated yappers at the Costa Mesa Taxpayer's Association do their fire-fanning for them. We'll know soon enough.

A LITTLE PERSPECTIVE
By the way, as indicated on a page from their web site, HERE, the City of Newport Beach made a big deal last year when their rating was RAISED to this same level, "Aa2". Costa Mesa and Newport Beach now have the same rating.

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CITY COUNCIL MEETING
AGENDA AMENDED
The agenda for the next City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - issued earlier in the week - has been updated, also at the end of the day Friday.


SPENDING YOUR MONEY
This is second meeting for which the
details of the Warrants has been provided. # 2368, HERE, and # 2369, HERE, can be searched for little treasures of information if you're so inclined. Have at it...

BUDGET INTRODUCTION - MAYBE
Although it's not on the agenda, we wonder if there is a chance that City Chief Executive Officer, Tom Hatch, might give us a peek at the new budget. Because it is not part of the agenda, the council may NOT discuss the budget if it is, indeed, introduced by Hatch Tuesday. According to the existing schedule, the document itself will be discussed at length at the Study Session on May 24th. It is my understanding that it will probably become available for viewing online sometime following the council meeting next Tuesday, so residents and other interested parties will have time to review it before the study session.

SENIOR MOBILITY AND MORE CONSULTING FEES
There are also a couple other interesting items that would normally be voted upon without comment. One is the agreement with t
he Orange County Transportation Authority for the Senior Mobility Program, HERE, and item number 8, which deals with the extension of the Public Services Agreement with Management Partners, adding an additional possible $145,000 to the agreement. You can read about that one HERE.

ROCKS PROGRAM FUNDING
Sometime after
7:00 the council will consider just what kind of a fee structure will be used for the ROCKS after school programs, HERE. This is an important program in our city for many working class families with school age children.

FIREWORKS ORDINANCE - WELCOME TO THE WAR ZONE!

The council will have their second, and final, reading of the new ordina
nce, HERE, that will turn our city into a war zone the entire weekend of the Independence Day holiday - from July 1 through July 4, despite the fact that we will no longer have the use of the ABLE helicopter program to help police the city and the police and fire departments are working with diminished staffing levels from previous years. We're placing every resident of this city in jeopardy just to satisfy the ego of some booster-oriented council members, eager for an opportunity to do some chest-thumping. Disgraceful!

I-405 IMPRO
VEMENT PROJECT
The pending I-405 Improvement Project will be presented. This is a very big deal, particularly for those folks living adjacent to that corridor as it runs through our city. You can read the staff report HERE.


BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT AREA (BIA)

The annual report for the 10-hotel Business Improvement Area (BIA) and the request for re-authorization will be discussed. You can read that staff report HERE.

REWARD PLAN WITHDRAWN

The proposal for a Reward Policy for information leading to the apprehension, arrest, and conviction of person(s) making threat of physical harm to the City, its residents, its employees, officials (both elected and appointed), and City property has been withdrawn. That seemed like the right move. We already have plenty of LAWS covering such things. There is no need for a "policy" to deter that kind of action. Personally, I think this was just a knee-jerk reaction to a brick tossed through a pub door and a little chest-bumping recently.

BEER GARDEN?
The final item on the agenda is a request from the Costa Mesa Community Foundation
to sell Wine and Beer at the 2011 Concerts in the Parks Series. You can read the staff report HERE. Do we really need a "Beer Garden" at these events? The City is already over-saturated with bars as it is... must we really get soused to enjoy a little music in the park? Geez! What's next - a little place for the stoners, where our "medical marijuana" vendors in town can provide their "medicine" at the concerts?

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Public Safety Event Canceled


NOTE: Did you miss me? This entry was all ready to go early Thursday afternoon but my host, Blogger, was offline to fix a problem they created a couple days ago while performing "maintenance". By the time you read this it might be just a little stale, but still edible.


HOW BAD ARE THINGS?
How bad are things getting in Costa Mesa these days? Well, friends, let me give you the latest in a long series of events and
issues that are turning our once-great city into a pretty darn miserable place in which to live.

GREAT COMMUNITY OUTREACH EVENT
Earlier this week the Costa Mesa Public Safety organizations, partnering with Target on Harbor Blvd., announced a terrific community outreach event - it was described in the Public Service Announcement as a "public safety and community meet and greet." It was "designed to provide community members with an opportunity to speak with members of the police and fire departments." Visitors could ask questions, have photos taken with public safety staffers and check out emergency vehicles. Sounds like a great family-friendly event, especially in light of all the negative stuff going on in our city for the past few months. The event was to be held in the Target parking lot from 11-2 on this Sunday, May 15th.

FOLEY REVS IT UP...

Costa Mesa's version of the Energizer Bunny, former councilwoman and curren
t School Board member Katrina Foley, saw the flier, had her staff fancy-it-up with some nifty public safety images - including some from her personal archive showing herself, family and friends at similar events - and did an email blast to several hundred people around this region to publicize the event. I "borrowed" some of those photos for this entry. She does this kind of thing all the time, promoting events throughout the city. I get several of these kinds of notifications a week from her.

ENTER THE GRINCH
Well, it seems o
ne of the recipients - a well-connected political operative who sometimes works in Costa Mesa but doesn't live here - took umbrage with Foley's effort to publicize this event, passed his concerns on to "certain people" in high places within city government, who then told City CEO Tom Hatch of their concern about possible politically-charged demonstrations, so Hatch canceled the event. I'm guessing that you wouldn't do that if you didn't work for those "certain people".

BARBAR
A GRABS IT AND RUNS
Irrepressible Orange County Register columnist Barbara Venezia heard of this situation and reported on it Thursday morning. You can read her news piece HERE. I've spoken with her about this situation and she a
ffirmed, as she said in her piece, that city officials - she mentioned Bill Lobdell and Tom Hatch by name - were concerned that Colin McCarthy's Costa Mesa Taxpayer's Association and the Tea Party might disrupt the event by handing out their own fliers with public safety salaries. I found myself getting angrier by the minute.

HATCH & LOBDELL CONF
IRM
I subsequently spoke with Lobdell and Hatch, who confirmed Barbara's story. Hatch told me that "some folks" were concerned that it would become a "political rally". I think I can safely guess the identities of "some folks" in this case. They are folks closely connected to the Costa Mesa Taxpayer's Association and could have asked them to NOT disrupt the event if they really wanted to do so - but they didn't. Instead, they chose to have this lovely, positive, family event canceled.

NOTE: Since the publication of this entry has been delayed by technical problems with my host, Blogger, some new information has become available. Based on comments on her Facebook page entry, Barbara Venezia has confirmed that McCarthy's organization had NOT planned to demonstrate at this eve
nt - which makes the cancellation even more suspicious. Were those "some folks" Hatch identifies above just making up reasons for him to cancel this event? If so, why? Might it have been because it might portray the public safety folks in a good light - something that works against their scheme to get rid of all pension-eligible employees by hook or crook?

TARGET DISAPPOINTED, TOO

I later spoke with a representative of Target management. He told me they were very excited about hosting this great, family event and were VERY disappointed when it was canceled. He did tell me that it will be re-scheduled for June. When I asked Hatch earlier about re-scheduling he gave me a vague answer about holding the event "when the time was
right". I told him if he was going to wait for the political tensions in this city to subside he was in for a long, long wait.

A SLIPPER
Y SLOPE
Quite frankly, this whole thing stinks! If we have now reached the point - I think we have - where one or two people can arbitrarily command our CEO to cancel a positive and politically benign event because it MIGHT make them a little politically uncomfortable, then we've gone over the crest and are starting down a slippery slope that leads to dictatorship. Perhaps the most interesting part of this whole screwed-up mess is that "some folks" were concerned that their own associates would be the perpetrators of unrest at this event.

HATCH NEEDS TO PUSH BACK
I am of the opinion tonight as I type this that Tom Hatch needs to push back
on these kind of things. Our city NEEDS more positive events like this one and he shouldn't let himself be pushed around by political operatives concerned only about their pathetic political futures. I know his job could be in jeopardy, which would make anyone reluctant to tell your boss that he's wrong - particularly when that person isn't used to having anyone say NO to him. However, part of Hatch's job is to do what is right for the residents of our city. Canceling this event was the wrong thing to do.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

More Layoff Notices & OCEA Demands Recision

MORE LAYOFF NOTICES DELIVERED TODAY
Today more layoff notices will be delivered to employees of the City of Costa Mesa. City CEO Tom Hatch sent a message to all employees yesterday announcing this fact. Subsequently, he distributed a memo clarifying just who was to receive these notices, and why. I've copied and pasted the text of Hatch's clarification below:

From: HATCH, THOMAS
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2011 10:16 AM

To: CITY-ALL

Subject: Clarification To E-Mail

Last night I sent out an e-mail to all city employees updating you on the bumping rights layoff notices that are being delivered today. I have received some questions about the information in the e-mail which I would like to clarify.

The 124 bumping rights layoff notices are not all new notices to staff. Of the 124 notices going out today there are 12 full-time employees and 29 part-time employees who will be receiving a 6 month layoff notice for the first time because they have the potential to be bumped. The remaining 83 individuals receive d their initial 6 month layoff notice in March and today they are receiving a letter to provide them with additional information about whether or not they are eligible to bump. Thus, everyone receiving an initial layoff notice because of the outsourcing is receiving a 6 month notice per the MOU; however, the effective dates in some of the layoff notices are different because of the different notification dates. Thank you to those that recommended that we provide this important clarification.

Also, my original e-mail did not include the hours that the EOC will be open today where the representations from EAP will be available. The hours today are 10 am to 5 pm.

Respectfully,

Thomas R. Hatch

Chief Executive Officer

City of Costa Mesa

77 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa, 92626

Ph. (714) 754-5328 Fax. 754-5330

thatch@ci.costa-mesa.ca.us

YET ANOTHER BLEAK DAY TODAY
Another bleak day is ahead at City Hall. You will recall the reaction to the original round of 6-month layoff notices on St. Patrick's Day, including the tragic suicide of Huy Pham and the insensitive reaction to that event by Mayor Gary Monohan.



OCEA DEMANDS LAYOFF NOTICES BE RESCINDED

Adding to the interesting day for Hatch, in coincidental bit of timing, today the Orange County Employee's Association, (OCEA) hand-delivered a letter to him from their General Counsel, Donald Drozd, demanding that the City immediately "cure and correct" the Brown Act violations by reversing its March 2, 2011 action regarding outsourcing of City services and immediately rescind all layoff notices issued to City employees pursuant to that action. You can read that letter HERE. This action was apparently taken as a result of the letter sent to the City by California Aware earlier this week and covered in detail HERE. Since the City has already said their legal team is investigating this issue, it will be interesting to see how this most recent communications from the OCEA impacts their decision. Stay tuned...

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Monahan And The Fairgrounds

MILES TO GO BEFORE I SLEEP...
It's been a long, long day and my little fingers are aching from all the blog posting I've done today, but there's one last item that simply must be addressed tonight.



"FAIRGROUNDS" AND "THE VOICE OF OC"
I've steered clear of "F
airgrounds" stuff for several weeks. The issue has been percolating quietly in the background as the legal process slowly drags forward and Governor Brown's team tries to figure out a way to balance the state budget. Fortunately, our friends over at the Voice of OC blog - Managing EditorSantana, Jr., in particular - has been staying on top of the issue. His most recent post on the subject, date stamped Tuesday, can be read HERE.

COURT HEARING FRIDAY + AB35
Pending is a court hearing this Friday and Assemblyman Jose Solorio's bill, AB35, which supports the Fair Board's "revenue sharing" proposal, is supposed to be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, May 18th - delayed from Friday.



FMW & THE FAIR BOARD
The main players in this drama - the 32nd Agricultural Association (The Fair Board) - and the potential buyer of the 150 acre property, Facilities Management West, have recently ramped up their campaigns by sending communications to Sacramento within the past week in an attempt to influence the decision by the law makers.

LEMMON AND BEAZLEY MAKE THEIR PITCHES
Guy Lemmon, spokesman for F
MW, sent a long epistle touting the wisdom and profitability of their deal last Friday, which you can read HERE. Dr. Steve Beazley, CEO of the Fairgrounds, sent a rebuttal, pushing the Fair Board's "revenue sharing" scheme on Tuesday, HERE.

MONAHAN - "SELL IT!"
However, the reason I'm writing this tonight is that Costa Mesa Mayor Gary Monahan has also chimed in on this issue with his own opinion on this subject in the form of a letter, HERE, on official city letterhead, in
which he strongly criticizes Solorio and his bill and advocates FOR THE SALE of the fairgrounds to Facilities Management West! This is a curious move, to say the least, since public opinion certainly seems to favor keeping the Fairgrounds as-is, even despite the questionable actions by the Fair Board leadership over the past couple years.

WHY, GARY?
I do not recall this issue being on any City Council agenda in recent months, nor do I recall anything that was posted on a Closed Session agenda that resembled consideration of this issue, much less advocating the sale. Since Monahan's letter was signed by him alone, it may be safe to assume that he's using his position as Mayor to push his own, personal opinion and thereby misleading the law makers in Sacramento about the views of the residents of this city. I understand the motivation behind the communications of Facilities Management West and the Fair Board - they have very real vested interests at stake and could certainly be expected to advocate strongly for those interests. What I don't understand is Monahan's position.

WHAT'S IN IT FOR HIM?

The letter, clearly written by someone else, is so strongly worded and takes such great pains to criticize Solorio - the ONLY member of the Legislature who
openly advocated for the resident's interests throughout this long ordeal - that it makes a curious person wonder just what Monahan might have to gain with this position. His letter benefits Facilities Management West, so I find myself wondering what in the world would cause the self-identified "populist" Mayor to take a position so opposite from that expressed by the voters of this city when they passed Measure C last spring.

DON'T LIKE THE SMELL OF THIS...
I wish I felt Monahan's position is straight from his heart, and that he has nothing personal to gain by using his office to express a personal opinion on an issue that affects so many people in his city - but I don't feel that way. I find myself wondering just what he has to gain, personally, by this act. In recent months we've seen him align with some members of the City Council that seem determined to destroy this city and wondered why. I find myself wondering if there is much more going on behind closed doors - or over a few drinks at his pub - that we, the voters of this city, should know about. There's a whiff of a pungent odor coming from the corner of Newport Boulevard and 20th Street this evening - and it's not corned beef and cabbage.

WHY THE BETRAYAL, GARY?

In this new era of "transparency" in our city government, perhaps our mayor could enlighten his constituents - beyond those sucking up suds in his pub - about why he wrote that l
etter - or at least why he signed it. I think we're entitled to know why he's turned his back on the voters of this city in such a flagrant act of betrayal. Let's hear it, Mr. Mayor. What's the deal?

Brown Act Questions To Be Answered By Monday

RAPID RESPONSE TEAM AT WORK
In what may be the fastest response to a question in recorded history, Costa Mesa Interim Communications Director, Bill Lobdell, issued a Press Release late this afternoon on the subject of the letter sent to Mayor Gary Monahan yesterday from Californians Aware, which I covered in blog entry earlier today, HERE. This is very much like fighting a fire - get there quick, get a lot of water on it or it will get away from you.

PRESS RELEASE AVAILABLE FOR VIEWING

In his Press Release, which you can find in it's entirety, including a copy of the letter, HERE, Lobdell tells us that The City will have a response no later than Monday, May 16, 2011.

EVEN MORE PROVOCATIVE INFORMATION
An interesting part of his Press Release is the admission that most of the Working Groups have done basically nothing since formed but that the Budget and Capital Improvements Work
ing Group - Mayor Gary Monahan and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer - has convened 12 times since January. And, of course, that even further exacerbates the appearance of impropriety, since there are no records of those meetings, where or when they were held, etc.

HUMMING THE JEOPARDY! THEME...
We will look forward to The City's response on Monday.

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Mensinger Off The Hook In "Chest-Bumping"

DELAYED NOTIFICATION
City of Costa Mesa Interim Director of Communications, Bill Lobdell, issued a Press Release late this afternoon informing us that on April 29th, nearly two weeks ago, the Orange County District Attorney's Office declined to file charges against non-elected City Councilman Stephen Mensinger in the now-infamous "chest-bumping" case with Estancia High School teacher Joel Flores, citing insufficient evidence.

NO WITNESSES
Actually, this comes as no surprise since nobody had come forward to support Flores claim. The only "witness" of which we are aware is Robert Murtha, a Mensinger disciple whose son, also Robert, is a star running back on the Estancia High School Football team.

LUCKY HE DIDN'
T HAVE HIS NEW BADGE
Let's hope this incident will now be put behind us and that Mensinger will not take this result as justification for further incidents of throwing his weight around in Costa Mesa and elsewhere. I find myself smiling and thinking how lucky Flores is that Mensinger didn't have his brand new, "jewel-encrusted" vanity badge at the time, or Mensinger might have tried to arrest him on the spot.





Here's the text of the Press Release:

***


Press Release


May 11, 2011

CONTACT

Bill Lobdell, (949) 887-2541
wlobdell@ci.costa-mesa.ca.us
www.ci.costa-mesa.ca.us
www.facebook.com/CostaMesaCityHall
Twitter @CityofCostaMesa


District Attorney declines to file charges in ‘chest-bumping’ incident

COSTA MESA, CALIF.—The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has declined to file charges against Costa Mesa Councilman Steve Mensinger after an Estancia teacher alleged he was “chest-bumped” by the city official at community event, it was announced this week.

Joel Flores filed a complaint with the Costa Mesa Police Department on April 23, alleging that Mensinger assaulted him earlier that day at the Costa Mesa Community Run after a verbal exchang
e about pending layoffs of city employees. Mensinger denied the charge, claiming that Flores had confronted him and there was no physical contact.
Per city policy, the matter was forwarded to the D.A.’s Office because the investigation involved a council member. On April 29, the D.A.’s Office rejected the case, citing “insufficient evidence.”

To contact Mensinger, please e-mail him here.

***

HERE'S THE ADDRESS...

That last line is a "hot link" in the press release. It gives you an email address with which to reach Mensinger. Here's that address since the link didn't carry forward in my message: stevemensinger@me.com

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CalAware - Costa Mesa 'Working Groups" Violate Brown Act


ME - "A BROWN ACT VIOLATION?"
More than a month ago I wrote to Costa Mesa Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch citing a section of the Ralph M. Brown Act that appeared to validate my contention that the City Council Working Groups - two-person sub-committees of the City Council - were in violation of the Brown Act. He, appropriately, handed it off to new City Attorney Tom Duarte for handling.

DUARTE - "NO"

Subsequently Duarte advised me that the committees were "ad hoc" committees and, as such, were not subject to the Brown Act.

ME - "BUT THE AG SAYS"... DUARTE - "NO"
Shortly thereafter I sent to Hatch and Duarte a copy of a 1996 ruling by the California Attorney General at the time
which seemed to contradict Duarte's view. The response was the same - our Working Groups were "ad hoc" and not subject to the Brown Act.

"CALIFORNIANS AWARE" L
ETTER
Yesterday a letter was sent from Mr. Terry Francke, General Counsel of Californians Aware, The Center For Public Forum Rights to Mayor Gary Monahan with copies to the remainder of the City Council, Hatch and (apparently in error) Kimberley Hall Barlow, former City Attorney.

WORKING
GROUPS DO VIOLATE BROWN ACT
In this letter Mr. Francke cites the same section of the Brown Act I referenced in my earlier correspondence to Hatch and advises that our Working Groups ARE subject to the Brown Act. Near the end of his two-page letter Mr. Francke says the following:

"While the Working Groups are intended to report their recommendations to the full Council in open session, and while Working Group members are apparently being advised not to communicate with non-members on the matters under study, the fact remains that if the group's meetings are private, the public will have no sense (unless it is told) of just what avenues were explored, what options were examined and discounted or discarded, or who met with the group in guiding its inquiries or formulating its proposals. The public will be presented with a package to react to, and one with weeks or months of momentum behind it by the time it reaches the Council, needing only one of three voters to be approved."

COMPLY OR ELSE...
Mr. Francke is obviously quite serious about this issue because his final paragraph reads as follows:

"Please take the necessary steps to see that the Working Groups begin immediately to comply with the Brown Act. And please consider that the Council's failure to do so will result in my recommendation to our Litigation Committee that we seek the appropriate court order(s) to ensure such compliance."

PLACE IT ON THE AGENDA
This morning I sent a note to Tom Hatch and Tom Duarte referring them to Mr. Francke's letter and requesting them to place the question of the Working Groups on the next City Council agenda - next Tuesday, May 17th.

ALL ACTIONS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED NULL AND VOID
Further, I suggested to them that, assuming the Attorney General opinion from 1996 and Mr. Francke's opinion are valid, that any actions taken by the City Council based on the illegal deliberations of the Working Groups since their inception should be considered null and void. That includes the entire Outsourcing plan and the 6-month notices that were issued as a result, which should immediately be rescinded.

ANTICIPATING PUSH-BACK
I'm not quite sure what to expect from this communication. I'm not threatening the City Council - Mr. Francke is, though. I suspect we'll hear a lot of push-back on this subject from Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger, since they don't like to be told by ANYONE that they can't do something they've got their minds set on.

IT'S OK TO START OVER

I hope they come to their senses and finally comply with the Brown Act. If they have to start all over with their ill-conceived outsourcing scheme, well, that's OK with me. They've been moving way, way too fast as it is. They can always re-start the clock on the 6-month notices, which will probably be better in the long run. According to Hatch in the Study Session last night, the preparation of the RFPs for possible outsourcing of 17 departments has been moving at a hectic pace. This delay will give the staff a chance to do this right, and for a proper analysis to be done of those responses the city might receive, and for a proper, thorough comparison of those submissions to the costs of retaining the work in-house. We owe the employees that much, for goodness sake.

SAD FOR HUY PHAM AND OTHERS

Sadly, I cannot close this without a feeling of deep sadness for Huy Pham, the young employee who took his life as his 6-month notice was about to be presented to him, and for his family and all his friends in The City. I also feel a deep sadness for those other employees who chose to move on rather than continue to lay on the tracks, waiting for this runaway train to run over them. Their skills and dedication will certainly be missed regardless how this whole drama works out.

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