Monahan Absent - Righeimer Freaks Out
How many times have I mentioned in the past that, as the hour grows closer to midnight, Costa Mesa City Councils typically make bad decisions? I know, I can't count the number of times I've said that, either. Well, last night was typical of that problem, only worse. Last night, as the council discussed the last item on the agenda, the mid-year budget review, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer had what amounted to a meltdown. But, before I explain what happened you need a little context. And, oh yes, former mayor Gary Monahan was absent from his first meeting after stepping down as mayor. No word was given for his no-show.
AS I PREDICTED...
You may recall that I've been complaining that the City had not posted the 5-year Forecast spreadsheet on the City Web Site yet, even though it had been created a few weeks ago. And, during that meeting, Righeimer pulled numbers out of the air with no discussion about how he arrived at them. At the time, and a couple times since, I speculated that he would cast those fabricated numbers in concrete then expect CEO Tom Hatch and his staff to prepare a budget to cover those expenditures. Well, tonight that's exactly what happened!
YOUNG FAST-TRACKED HIS PRESENTATION
At the end of a long evening Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young provided a brief overview of the mid-year budget status, blitzing through the various exhibits because, theoretically, the council was familiar with them from the previous study session. The half-dozen of us remaining in the auditorium struggled to stay up with him as the minute hand on the clock swung past 11:30 p.m. and began that slow climb to midnight. The council really only had two actions to take - vote to approve the budget adjustment that was the result of information contained in the exhibits Young discussed and then vote to receive and file the report.
WENDY BALKED, RIGHEIMER FREAKS OUT
As they began to consider the question councilwoman Wendy Leece balked, first because Righeimer was demanding that Hatch chop vacant staff positions and was vague about how much money he wanted to get. Righeimer said something like, "Oh, five or six million". She continued, indicating that she would not be supporting the motion because of the excessive legal fees - $900,000 of the adjustment was to replenish the Self Insurance Fund from which litigation costs are covered. Budget projections show those numbers doubling before the end of the fiscal year. When the vote was taken it was 2-2, with Leece and Righeimer voting NO. A tie means the vote failed. Old/new part-time, part-time Mayor Eric Bever and non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger looked stunned! Then it got worse.
HE CAME UNGLUED
Righeimer began his meltdown, ranting about wanting Hatch to come back with what kind of tax increases it would take to cover the $12,000,000 shortfall projected in the 2012/2013 budget. Well, they have not even done that budget yet, but that is what his 5-year spreadsheet - full of fabricated numbers - said. So, in a fit of pique, he ranted about being tired of sitting up there and being criticized by some people (Leece) on the dais that can't add. On and on he went about Nordstrom, and how some people on the dais (Leece) thought a huge business license fee increase was all we needed, but that businesses other than Nordstrom would leave our city if we raised them. He looked and sounded just like a little kid throwing a tantrum! I must tell you that, in all the years I've been watching council meetings, I've never seen such an immature, petulant, unprofessional display in my life! And, what made it even more ironic was that Righeimer had just finished saying that they needed mature leadership up there! Gee, Jim... no kidding! They're sure not going to get it from you!
The upshot of that display of irresponsibility was that the much-needed budget adjustment did not get passed, so we will show nearly a $1 million shortfall due to excessive legal fees. I watched Bobby Young leave the auditorium reeling from what had just happened.
NO-CLASS ACT, FOR SURE
Earlier in the evening he showed signs of what was to come when he complained about people trying to keep the Charter off the ballot and, from the dais, blamed, specifically, the City Clerk for the error. He named former councilwoman Katrina Foley - as she was entering the auditorium - as some kind of conspirator because she is part of a lawsuit filed to keep the city from shoving aside the clerical mistake that was made and get the judge to order the Registrar of Voters to accept the ballot measure from The City. I watched Foley fume as she calmly waited her turn to speak, then ripped Righeimer - and properly so. He was way, way out of line - again. We should have know what was coming.
AGENDA CHANGED SLIGHTLY
Oh, yes, some other things happened last night, too. The much-feared modification of the agenda which, if passed as Bever proposed, would have moved public comments and the CEO Report to the end of the meeting and council member comments to the front. After a long, long discussion with many public comments, Bever finally relented and moved to keep the Public Comments at the front following Presentations, move the Council Member comments forward to follow Public Comments, then Hatch's report after that. He did, however, threaten any rowdies that he would reserve his prerogative of shutting down public comments if it got to be too long and trail the remainder to the end of the meeting. He and Mensinger both suggested giving priority to Costa Mesa residents during the public comments, too. However, since he ceased the use of comment cards last night, how would he know?
HOMELESS TASK FORCE PLAN APPROVED
The long, long wait for the Homeless Task Force final report went off well. The short version is that the council approved the plan and wanted a progress report in 6 months. The task force actually did a terrific job on an impossible subject. I recommend you look over the reports linked in my previous entry.
MILITARY AFFAIRS TEAM MOVES FORWARD
The council also went along with Wendy Leece's plan for a Military Affairs Team - an all-volunteer force to work closely with our adopted Marine battalion, the 1/5. It was ironic that they quibbled over a minuscule amount of staff time needed to support it, then spent money like they were printing it later. As a veteran, it really ticked me off to see such an apparent disregard for the sacrifices our fighting men and women make for us.
CIVIL WAR REENACTMENT APPROVED
After a VERY brief presentation the council approved the use of Fairview Park for a Civil War Reenactment weekend later this spring.
RIGHEIMER'S A DANGER TO OUR CITY
I must say that I'm absolutely aghast at Jim Righeimer's performance last night. It was clear to most in the auditorium that the pressure of his failures in his first year in the job are getting to him. It is causing him to act so irrationally that he's putting the city's financial well-being at risk. The best thing that could happen to our city now is for three new council members be elected in November - folks with a much more reasonable, mature approach to governance. The longer Righeimer is in control of the majority - and let there be no doubt that he is in control - the damage being done to our city is severe and may take a decade to undo. Remember in November...