Saturday, September 03, 2011

Uh-Oh! They're Back!

I write to you from a distant venue, barely dealing with issues using dial-up internet
service, but still eager to help you stay abreast of important issues in Costa Mesa and environs.

As you try to get yourselves sorted out from a summer that included a month of the Orange County
Fair - where record crowds took some of the edge off the rancorous rhetoric about who should own that property and how it should be configured - and another month where the Costa Mesa City Council acted like it was running a business in France and basically took the entire month of August off, the council is hoping to catch you in a post-holiday malaise and slip some important stuff past you Tuesday evening.


In the Consent Calendar, which is normally voted on as one vote without discussion unless someone decides more discussion is needed on a specific item, there are things of note to consider. First, there are five (5) Warrant resolutions - those items that authorize and recognize the payment of valid expenses. These total almost $4.5 million this time around! And, while the "process" continues to make it difficult to read these things online - you have to cock your head 90 degrees or turn you computer on it's side - the little crick in your neck is worth is. As you scan the entries you'll find one, for example, for Talon Executive Services for almost $14,000 for "legal" services. We think that's the charge for re-investigating the Huy Pham death which resulted in nothing new - he leaped to his death last St. Patrick's Day.

You'll also find that we have
paid Jones & Mayer, our outsourced legal group, $115,901.11 for services rendered. We continue to throw money at them at a rate well above the budgeted amount. But wait, the story gets even better.


You may recall that one of the reasons we decided to contract with an outside firm in the f
irst place was because, at that time, it was felt that our in-house legal team lacked the litigation experience necessary. So, we hooked up with Jones & Mayer to provide a full-service, one-stop-shop for our legal needs.

However, way d
own at the end of the Consent Calendar - items 12 and 13 - we find requests for the council to approve retaining TWO additional law firms to help with our growing legal entanglements. The first, #12, is with the firm of Jones Day to provide legal services in the lawsuit between the city and the "Costa Mesa Employees Association". That's how it is phrased in the item, but I suspect it's supposed to be "Costa Mesa City Employees Association". Ah, those darn details... Anyhow, Jones Day happily proposes a one-time arrangement in which they will be providing services at a rate of $495.00 per hour for any time taken by ANY lawyer (including first year associates) in the firm on our case - plus expenses! And, of course, there is no estimate about the duration or cost of this engagement. Holy cow!


Item #13, is an arrangement with the San Francisco law firm of HansonBridgett for "legal services in connection with the outso
urcing of certain municipal services". This is apparently codifying an already existing relationship, so I find myself wondering if this outfit was one of those who managed to overlook City Council Policy 100-6 for more than 4 months. This firm apparently is a real bargain because they are going to bill us only $325.00 per hour for the primary lawyer and $295.00 for another fellow. And, of course, they're going to bill us for "expenses", too. No photocopy, no phone call, no deep breath drawn on our behalf will go unbilled, as was the case with Jones Day, too.

And just what, pray tell, is Jones & Mayer doing in all this? Well, contract City Attorney, Tom Duarte, is "overseeing" all this action and deciding how the city's money will be spent. So, o
ur contract attorney is managing our sub-contract attorney - actually, two of them - and we're still paying them $175.00 per hour for that service. In the meantime, that old meter just keeps spinning.

Further on down in the agenda, under New Business, you'll find some nuggets. Some make sense, others seem just a little strange.


Under #3, the council will receive an update on the PERS retirement system. This should be very
interesting. Consultant John Bartels has presented them with an excellent staff report.

Next comes Wendy Leece's request to modify the municipal code requiring reporting ALL ex parte communications by council members. While this seems like a good idea - a logical one - I want to hear any arguments against it.


Item #5 is an up
date on the activities of the Homeless Task Force. I'm looking forward to hearing this information, too. They've been working hard and have an aggressive agenda for the remainder of the year.


The next item is a weird one - a resolution to have the CEO place signs on city -owned prope
rties warning about the environmental dangers of amalgam dental fillings... Really?

Then radio station KOCI is asking for a grant of $5,655 to purchase and install an Emergency Alert System. They are apparently willing to trade the city more than $6,000 of advertising/programming for this grant. Might be a good deal. I know there has been conversation about some regular interview programming recently.

Then, under #8, the cou
ncil will finally consider a process for the evaluation of the Requests for Proposal (RFP) that have been, and are being, issued for the outsourcing scheme. Some will say, "It's about time!" They've been at this for months and now finally will consider a process?!


Item #9 is related to 8 - a Status update on Contracting Committees. This should be very interesting because of the difficulty the city and the bargaining unit had putting these together once Council Policy 100-6 was finally unearthed.

Then, finally, the Big Elephant on the agenda - the major reorganization of several city departments. This is a whopper! And, based on the earlier agenda, it's very likely that this will be discussed very, very late in the evening. And, as I've stated many times in the past, councils typically don't make good decisions when the clock passes midnight.

1.Information Tech
nology Division becomes a division within the Finance Department;

2.Recreation Division becomes a division within the Public Services Department;

3.Human Resources/Risk Management Division becomes of a division within the CEO Department;

4.A new Communications and Marketing Division to be created within the CEO Department;

5.The Central Services Section becomes a section within the Communications, Marketing and Community Affairs Division of the CEO Department;

6.The Housing a
nd Community Development Division become a Division of the Development Services Department;

7.Eliminate the current vacant positions of Administrative Services Director, Human Resources Administrator - Risk Management, and Budget and Research Officer;

8.Reclassify the following existing positions:
a.Finance Director to Finance and Information Technology Director

b.Human Resources Administrator in Human Resources to Human Resources Manager

c.Human Resources Analyst in Risk Management to Principal Human Resources Analyst in Risk Management; and

9.Create and fund the following new positions:
a.Public Affairs
Manager - Communications and Marketing in the CEO Department

b.Public Affairs Manager – Community Affairs and Special Events in the CEO Department

c.Budget Analyst in the Finance Department

d.Executive Secretary (Confidential) - City Council Office to support workload and communications of five City Council members

e.Executive Se
cretary (Confidential) - the CEO Department to support the workload of the Assistant CEO, Communication & Marketing staff, Community Affairs and Special Events staff, Management Analyst and support for City Attorney’s Office

Certainly, we don't disagree with re-organizing to make operations more efficient and productive. However, it looks to me like there are going to be some permanent positions created for consultants - the two Public Affairs Managers slots, for example, for Bill Lobdell and Dan Joyce. Lobdell tells me that these positions will be actively recruited... OK, if you say so, Bill.

All that happens before council member comments - a time at the end when surprises are sprung on an unsuspecting public. You will recall Eric Bever's question for the staff at the last meeting, when he requested them to investigate how a single council member could be prohibited from placing an item on the agenda - a clear attempt to further marginalize Wendy Leece's presence. You may recall that he might have spilled the beans about possible Brown Act violations when he brought the issue up, indicating that he tried to confirm an interest with "at least one other" council member before placing an item on the agenda.


You all are on your own at this council meeting. A little surgical procedure will keep m
e from attending and, in fact, might prohibit me from even observing on television. So, pay attention... it's your city they are trying to destroy.

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Labor Day In Costa Mesa

As we approach the Labor Day holiday - a time when most of us think very little about "labor" and a lot about trying to squeeze the last drop of recreation into a waning summer before either returning to school or going back to putting our collective noses to the grindstone - I thought it might be appropriate to provide a little perspective. I originally submitted this for publication in the Daily Pilot, but I was too late and too long, so here we are...


According to the Department of Labor, this holiday was first observed on September 5, 1882 - 129 years ago - in New York City, following plans put forth by the Central Labor Union. The movement grew and the first Monday of September became an official National holiday in 1894. In most cases it has been celebrated with parades and other kinds of recreation and amusement - including speeches by politicians, which certainly counts as amusement.

While I'm not a strong advocate of organized labor, I readily admit that I have belonged to two unions in my working life. I was a member of the Retail Clerks as a box boy a half-century ago and, at roughly the same time, was a member of the Teamsters - one of Jimmy Hoffa's boys - a requirement for the job I had putting sticks in popsicles, but that's another story.


I also readily acknowledge the part organized labor played in the advance of our nation to a position as the greatest industrial entity in the world. Without the efforts of those hardworking men and women - whose sweat and toil helped build this nation - things would have been very, very different for those of us who grew up during the last half of the 20th Century.

This year the Labor Day holiday takes on a more special, serious meaning for me. I view the labor/management relationship through a different prism now. Having closely watched events in this city over the past few months, for the first time in my life I can actually understand why the organized labor movement began in this country. This is the first time I can recall the leaders of a city in which I live taking such an aggressive anti-labor stand. It is the first time I can recall any local elected officials becoming so angry with the employees of a municipality that they willingly ignore their own operating rules to find ways to toss them into the unemployment trash bin. It's the first time I can recall municipal leaders fabricating a "crisis" to use as a reason to cast loyal, hardworking employees aside like a used Kleenex.


In March of this year, when it became clear to the new City Council led by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger, that "pension reform" was not possible because contracts with the employee associations extended into 2014, a decision apparently was made to do the next best thing - get rid of those folks who would be eligible for the pensions. In discussions held in secret by a two-man sub-committee composed of Righeimer and Mayor Gary Monahan a plan was concocted to dump as many employees as possible by "outsourcing" their jobs to private industry.

Unfortunately, they chose to ignore Council Policy 100-6, which was codified back in the early 1990s to facilitate just such an action. That policy described a methodology by which Contracting Committees, composed of relevant staff members would be formed, and calm, rational meetings would be held to hash out the technicalities of such an outsourcing plan.

Instead, the council hastily issued 6-month layoff notices to 213 employees, including the entire Fire Department, on March 17, 2011 - St. Patrick's Day. The abrupt callousness with which this was done resulted in a day of turmoil at City Hall, the exclamation point of which was the tragic suicide of young maintenance worker, Huy Pham, who was called into work while recuperating from an injury to receive his notice but, instead, leaped to his death from the City Hall roof. It was on that day that Monahan chose, rather than going to City Hall to take charge of events and console a distraught staff, to stay at his pub, wearing his kilt, pulling beer taps on what he described at the time to a television reporter as "the biggest day of my life."


In the nearly six months since that tragic day we have seen demonstrations - a rainy-day prayer vigil by more than 100 residents surrounding City Hall, shrines in Pham's memory placed at the site of his death in the parking lot and hundreds of speakers standing before the City Council, meeting after meeting, to express their anger at the way this issue was being handled - and a fracturing of the relationship between the City and its employees. Bill Lobdell, former Daily Pilot editor and, more recently, a columnist, was hired as the Interim Director of Communications by the city and has earned every cent of his fee. No city in recent memory has needed a Public Relations representative more than Costa Mesa the past few months.

All this turmoil got the attenti
on of the media - local, regional, national and international - and Righeimer became almost omnipresent on television, telling his version of events. We've had representatives of national publications - The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The New Yorker magazine, for example - visiting our city and writing scathing articles. Our once-proud city had become, not the tip of the lance in the battle for pension reform that Orange County Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh envisioned, but the negative example of how this issue should not be managed.

One of those writers, The New Yorker's Tad Friend, spent more than a week in Costa Mesa this spring, interviewing dozens of people, attending meetings and observing - trying to figure out just what was going on. The product of that effort finally hit print this week in the September 5, 2011 edition of that magazine. There, beginning on page 34, is an article titled, "Contract City - When a town's budget fight turned deadly". I summarized the article in my blog, HERE, and also provided links to access it online FREE and to a radio interview with Friend about the article.

In my view, Tad Friend captured the real essence of the situation h
ere in Costa Mesa, and provided an insight that may have been missing from the dialogue over these past several months. He quotes many of the players in this drama extensively in his piece. For example, he quotes Jim Righeimer several times, including once when describing Righeimer's views on outsourcing. He quotes the mayor pro tem as saying, "We had one manager we had to write a three-hundred-thousand-dollar check for because he grabbed some employee's ass. We outsource that, someone else is writing that check."

He quoted non-elected councilman Mensinger, when referring to the relationship between the employee associations and the city management, as saying, "I don't think the prisoners should be running the prison." I can't think of a statement that more accurately defines the view this council has of the employees who serve our city. The relationship between the council and the employees has gotten so bad that new CEO Tom Hatch, referring to the city council, actually told a gathering of members of the police department that "They don't trust us. They don't trust me and they don't trust you.".


Eventually someone "discovered" the aforementioned council policy 100-6, a
nd the Requests For Proposals for outsourcing of several units were canceled, the required Contracting Committees were formed and have begun meeting - just as it should have been done months ago. Had this process been followed back then, it is unlikely that young Huy Pham would have thrown himself off the roof.


In the meanti
me, almost every city department head has departed, leaving a leadership vacuum that only contributes to the unease at City Hall. City Manager Allan Roeder - the rock of stability that kept the city from budgetary disasters over the years - retired after serving the city for more than three decades, and was replaced by his able assistant, Hatch. There remains only one department head in place who held the same job last year at this time - Public Services Director Peter Naghavi. Most of the senior leadership positions have been occupied by consultants - hired guns retained to bring specific expertise to a city in chaos, but who have no long-term commitment to the city, its employees or residents.

And, the City Council
majority has demonstrated, time after time, it intends to ignore the advice of those consultants retained for their knowledge and background. For example, they picked an arbitrary staffing level for the Police Department that met no rational criteria and ignored the sound advice of the consultants hired to do the assessment of the department and also that of Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley - who resigned in protest, leaving behind a scathing letter which, in part, called members of the City Council, "...incompetent, unskilled and unethical." This indictment came, not from a WalMart security guard, but from a man revered for his four decades of law enforcement experience and leadership throughout the state and nation.


hen, today, Chasen Marshall, staff writer for the OC Weekly, produced a multi-page tome titled, "It's Gotten Costa Messy in Costa Mesa", that is an excellent follow-on to Tad Friend's New Yorker piece. You can read it HERE. I suspect that the four members of the Costa Mesa City Council will be so thoroughly riled after reading these two lengthy articles that they'll approach next Tuesday's council meeting with elevated blood pressure and a skull full of epithets, ready to spit back at anyone who criticizes them - kind of like it's been at most meetings this summer.


Tuesday marks the first council meeting in almost a month - one that is packed with im
portant issues. It will be preceded by the swearing-in ceremony of our new Police Chief, Tom Gazsi, at 3 p.m. in council chambers. Gazsi, a long-time Costa Mesa resident with a three decade law enforcement career in Newport Beach, brings experience and much-needed leadership to a department struggling to keep up with service demands as staffing levels shrink. I've met Tom Gazsi and think he's the right man for this job.

As you mull over the circumstances in which our city finds itself over this Labor Day holiday, I hope you'll realize that this turmoil is the direct result of the political aspirations of at least one council member and the willingness of the Orange County Republican Party hierarchy to use our city as a Petri dish for experimentation without regard to the damage that will be left in the wake of their experiments. Apparently, in their view, Costa Mesa is expendable. As the crime rate rises and service responses in other areas of city government decline because of the draconian staffing cuts dictated by this council, please remember that a year from now you will be considering candidates for three council positions - enough to change the balance of power in this city and to return it to sanity.

Of course, in the meantime, you can always join those voices of dissent in the city - those fe
w people who actually study the issues and dare to step before the council to express an opposing view. You can attend council and commission meetings and make your views known. You can write letters to the council expressing your views. Part of the reason our city is in such dire straits now is because this council assumes that, because there are not 110,000 people standing in the City Hall parking lot with pitchforks and torches, they must be doing a great job. They are not and they need more people telling them they're not. It's up to you...

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