Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Stupidity Trumps Professionalism

You know, for a long, long time I thought that Costa Mesa City Councils made bonehead moves due to the time of evening - that as the clock moved steadily toward midnight the chances were greater that one or more of the members would make a stupid decision.  Well, Tuesday night I learned that the hour of the day (or night) probably has nothing at all to do with it.  Nope, Tuesday I learned that, as Forrest Gump said, "Stupid is as stupid does."  More on that later.

At the Study Session that began at 4:30 Tuesday the council was scheduled to consider three items - the I-405 Improvement Project; the SR-55 Improvement Project and the Preliminary 2012-2013 Budget.  They managed to only get to two of the three and barely covered the budget at all.

As anticipated, the first item on the agenda, the I-405 Improvement Project, drew a large crowd.  At the beginning of the meeting I counted 50 residents and that number grew to around 70 before the discussion was completed nearly two hours later.  In an unusual move, Mayor Eric Bever chose to permit public comments on this item both before and after the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) presentation.  That may have been the last good decision he made Tuesday night.

No speaker spoke in favor of the plan as presented by the OCTA.  Alternative #3, the change favored by the OCTA, was roundly criticized by residents, council members and city staff, as well.  As several speakers observed, including council and staffers, that choice is all about funding.  Many of those same speakers and others observed that Costa Mesans gain nothing from that particular plan.  Councilman Steve Mensinger asked, "What's in it for us?"  In fact, as Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer stated, when completed it would make it more inconvenient for him to use.  Heck, that's reason enough to quash it, right? ;-)

The presentation, which probably was anticipated to last an hour, went on and on and on and the more the discussion progressed the more peeved the council members seemed to become.  And that situation was exacerbated by two factors.  First, OCTA CEO Will Kempton stepped up to apologize for having to depart early because it was his anniversary and he didn't want to be late for dinner.  Then Niall Barnett, OCTA Project Manager, told the council and audience that there would be three Public Hearings in June on this issue - one each in Westminster, Rossmoor and Fountain Valley - but none in Costa Mesa!  It seems the OCTA staff was unable to locate a venue that could accommodate 200 participants in Costa Mesa.  That's hard to believe since several rooms at the Neighborhood Community Center would fit that bill.  And, we have OCC and Vanguard University that might have a large enough venue, too.  They're going back to the drawing board to try to make something work.

It was clear to me that the OCTA staff severely underestimated the opposition to their favored plan.  We hope that better options are found before the OCTA Board hears this issue, sometime in July.

Because that issue dragged on, following a break Bever decided to shove the SR-55 Improvement Project off to a later Study Session and immediately launched the discussion of the third agenda item - the Preliminary 2012-2013 Budget - at 6:30.

CEO Tom Hatch began the presentation - for which he and Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young now had a scant 30 minutes to make because a Special City Council Meeting had been called for 7:00 - by delivering what he apparently thought would be bad news.  As it turned out, the real "bad news" was yet to come.

Hatch began by telling the council, who had just received the document an hour or so earlier, that it isn't a balanced budget - it anticipates using just over $260,000 from the fund balance - but he anticipated achieving a balanced budget as subsequent meetings this month took place.

He then told them that it might be worse because it includes $800,000 in income anticipated from the now-defunct Redevelopment Agency.  If it turns out that the state snatches that money back to Sacramento, then the projected deficit will be around $1million.

He then told the council that $2.4 million included in the budget is from the dissolution of the A.B.L.E. helicopter program, and would come from the sale of the three aircraft and from funds from A.B.L.E. that will be returned to the city.  He said it would be used for capital improvements.

The final bit of bad news he had for the council was that it did NOT  meet the councils capital improvement wishes as described in the pie-in-the-sky (my term) 5-year plan.  I've spoken about that before - Righeimer pulled numbers from the air earlier this year and, as I predicted, expects the staff to find budget dollars to meet it. 

Righeimer immediately pressed Hatch for a number - how big a gap is there?  Hatch was unable to give a credible number, but Righeimer persisted and Hatch finally said  there would probably be a $4-6 million shortfall, and that these issues could be discussed at meetings planned for May 17, 24 and 29 - and maybe more, too.

By this time it was now 6:45 and Bever was adamant that Young would have only 15 minutes to present the Preliminary Budget!  I know for a fact that the staff has been working long and hard to try to come up with this budget presentation.  It was, literally, hot off the presses.  In fact, the staff report that he was going to present was still warm to the touch when it was distributed at the meeting.

So, Young gave it his best shot but it wasn't good enough for the council... more in a minute.  He began by telling the council that the preliminary All Funds Budget would be $132,387,846 - an increase from the current year budget of $17.5 million (15.20%)The Capital Improvement Budget is $20,146,936 - up $9.7 million (92.81%!).

The General Fund Budget is projected at $101.4 million, up $6.7 million from last year.  Young told the council that it includes the following items: Budget Contingency (that's Hatch's slush fund) - $1million; Unfunded Liability - $500,000; Building Modifications and Park Maintenance - $500,000; 15 Streets Paved by City Staff - $1.2 million; General Plan Update - $200,000 and the Addition of a City Labor Negotiator - $100,000.  The council was not happy, but it got worse.

Young then told them specifically what was NOT included in this budget.  His short list included: Information Technology Improvements; Citywide Alley Improvements; Citywide Drainage Improvements; Fairview Park and Sports Fields Improvements and Unfunded Medical Reimbursement Liability.  I could almost see the steam building in the heads of some of the council members.

Finally Righeimer just blew a gasket.  He went on one of his now-predictable rants complaining that all the items on his wish list (my term) were not in the budget - that staff just made a choice not to include them,  and said, among other things, "This is not what the council asked for.  We're not asking you to balance the budget..."  He went on to say, "What I want to see in this budget, before we come back, going forward, is all the items in there and this council can decide what has to be taken out of there, not staff saying we have a two or three hundred thousand dollar problem."

So, Bever gave Young another two minutes - literally - then slammed the door on him and immediately adjourned the Study Session and convened the Special Council meeting - a closed session for labor negotiations.  It was truly bizarre, since the budget is the foundational document for all municipal activities.  Young probably needed another ten minutes, but was cut off at the knees.  This is the kind of judgment we see these days...

As it turns out, that Special Meeting Bever was so paranoid about opening at 7:00 sharp could have been delayed as long as the council wanted.  At least, that's what contract City Attorney Tom Duarte told them when asked.  It seems that the real problem was a scheduling issue with the labor negotiator!  And then Bever botched up the opening of the meeting.  He failed to have the item read into the record, didn't take roll, didn't hold the pledge of allegiance to the flag and was saved a smidgen of embarrassment when acting Deputy City Clerk Christine Cordon asked if she could read the item into the record.  And all this happened around 7:15 - not midnight.  So, you see - the hour of the day alone does not bring out the incompetence of our leaders - they act stupid at any time of day or night.  Geez, do we deserve better than this!

As I've mentioned before, May is a VERY busy month.  We have a council meeting on Tuesday, May 15th, with what should be a packed agenda.  Then, on Thursday, May 17th, we have another Study Session that will include Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold's presentation of a possible re-organization of the Fire Department AND more budget drama.  At least two more budget meetings are scheduled this month, on the 24th and 29th.  More will be scheduled if necessary.  As I said, a busy month...

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Anonymous Family over Freeways said...

Haven't attended a meeting in a while or is circus a better description? Aside from all the other issues Geoff raised I was aghast at Commissioner Fitzpatrick's attack on the OCTA CEO.

I thought Republicans were the FAMILY VALUES party. Apparently not. Fitzpatrick admitted last night he put freeways before family. Talk about disgusting.

Fitzpatrick was insulted by the early departure of the OCTA CEO and asked for an apology.

The guy went home to be with his wife on their anniversary.

I applaud him for showing at all. They did not expect it to go as long as it did. It was a preliminary presentation and as pointed out there will be many more meetings. He left knowing his capable team could handle it.

Council Member Mensinger's comments started to chide the CEO and then his lapdog Fitzpatrick laid into the OCTA CEO.

As a conservative I say my family comes before a freeway any day. Guess our new OCGOP sees it differently.

5/09/2012 06:56:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Extremists like Mensy and Fitzy are destroying the Republican "brand." Instead of the party that great Americans like Presidents Lincoln and Eisenhower were part of, it's becoming the party of people like David Duke and Rush Limbaugh.

5/09/2012 07:43:00 AM  
Anonymous BigPicture said...

I wonder if the budget would have balanced if CMPD actually towed all the cars whose drivers were involved in those much-hyped DUI arrests? Regardless, many eyes are going to shift to the massive legal expenses.

5/09/2012 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger valan2 said...

The Righeimer rant was outrageous, though not out of character. Bottom line is that he wanted staff to include the Council's wish list, even if it made the budget $15 million out of balance, so he could blame staff (employee associations, etc.) for the "problem." That way, it wouldn't be so obvious that he's creating the problem by adding $15 million worth of capital improvements we can't afford.

I missed his specific comment, "We're not asking you to balance the budget," but I don't doubt it. Isn't that staff's responsibility - to bring Council a balanced budget? Can you imagine the criticism they would have endured had they done just that? They would have been criticized roundly for being so irresponsible. At least, any City Council since 1953 would have done so.

But, this Council is different. They have a political agenda. And, since they won't admit that it's the driving force behind most of what they do, they have to make someone else (City Staff) they fall guy. They have to create "problems" and "crises" so they can apply their political agenda to "solve" them. I just hope they don't "solve" us into the ground along the way.

5/09/2012 09:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Sam Grady said...

Bobby Young is probably rethinking his yes man approach that got him the promotion to Finance Director. He really thought the council majority respected his experience and wisdom as a competent fiscal manager. Boy was he wrong. The key to your job is to only say what the council majority, especially Righeimer, wants to hear, regardless if it makes any sense financially. I heard that Seal Beach is looking for a Finance Director. If I were Young, I would be actively looking for opportunities elsewhere. It can't be worth it to stay in Costa Mesa. Hatch is SOL. What city would want to hire him?

5/09/2012 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Fitzy was right said...

Family over Freeways,

Fitzpatrick was absolutely correct - this issue impacts hundreds of residents and the OCTA CEO should not have come at all if he had a prior committment. He is a public official, this was a scheduled meeting, and the CEO clearly was not taking Costa Mesa's issues seriously. The OCTA was not prepared to address all of the project concerns.

Your comment is really amazing, Fitzpatrick was standing up for Costa Mesa, yet all you can do is criticize him for "attacking" the CEO of an agency which is proposing to destroy the quiet enjoyment of hundreds of Costa Mesa residents?

Seriously? You weren't insulted by the OCTA CEO's cavalier attitude and dismissal of the concens of dozens of Costa Mesa residents?

5/09/2012 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Cheerleader said...

Rant little Riggy, rant!
Rant til your Napoleon hat falls off!

5/09/2012 12:51:00 PM  
Anonymous rantfan said...

Fitzy was right: are you new to CM politics? I think you must be. Of course Fitz was correct and was standing up for CM. You got that right. However, you are apparently unaware of a small vocal group who will oppose ANYTHING done by this council or comments by people supporting council. It does not matter how minsicule, they creep to their computer and post hate. If they have nothing to say they make up little cute things like "cheerleader" above. Just ignore, move forward. The real fun comes in November. They think they are onto something since they have a group of haters/whiners willing to spend their Tuesday nights for a TV spot on public comments, most of which are pathetic. They have no viable platform or candidates. Whadda they going to run on, keep the high pensions? Hurrah for public unions?? Those are real winners,eh? Maybe they can champion our firefighters going to OCFA so they can "retire" from here and collect pension and work there at same time. Not much support for that. Or mayber "let it flood" for Wallace street?

5/09/2012 01:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Fitzy is NEVER right said...

Seriously? You weren't insulted by the OCTA CEO's cavalier attitude and dismissal of the concens of dozens of Costa Mesa residents?


5/09/2012 01:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Not a fan said...

Hey Fitz lover, are you kidding me? Jim Fitzpatrick was absolutely wrong. It was totally rude and completely out of line for him to ask Mr. Kempton for an apology. The truth is Fitz just loves to scold people publicly. It makes him feel like a big shot.
Unlike you, I am not at all worried about OCTA proposing to “destroy the quiet enjoyment” of hundreds of Costa Mesa residents. What’s more terrifying is watching Fitzy and our City Council “quietly destroying” the enjoyment of thousands of Costa Mesa residents. Talk about dismissing the concerns of the people! Where have you been for the last 18 months? Living under a rock?
Maybe Fitz got a little jealous last night. His poor wife probably doesn’t want to go out to dinner anymore, much less admit she’s married to him. I know I wouldn’t, anniversary or not!

5/09/2012 02:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Freeways over Families said...

The man apologized before he left. Everyone involved thought the presentation would be much shorter. They had to completely disbandon the 2nd item, they never got to the 4th item and they cut way short the 3rd item. The CEO did his part of the presentation and stayed for much of the other part. He had capable staff to finish and they have many more meetings planne

I am not for the plans either but that's not the point. This certainly affects many some positively and some not. Probably millions of people who travel the 405 will positively be effected. Even many off the 55. I don't like because it negatively impacts me and my neighbors.

Fitzpatrick wasn't standing up for anyone that is pure BS. TheCEO clearly takes this serious for all of Orange County. You just disagree with it so you and Fitzy go on the attack. I as a resident disagree too and there will be plenty of opportunity to voice that displeasure without sacrificing family values over this.

When Monahan had a choice last year after the suicide he chose his business over the life of an employee. Bever has chosen often Family over public meetings. This OCTA guy at least showed up. It went longer than expected and he apologized and left. You call it cavalier and Fitzy throws a tantrum asking for an apology that was already given.

5/09/2012 04:36:00 PM  
Anonymous luvmyhub said...

his wife feels differently than you. hope that's OK.

5/09/2012 04:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Wake up! said...

Basically, because Fitzy supports the council, everything he says and does is wrong with this myopic crowd.

If Riggy, Mensy and Fitzy are not happy with OCTA, you support OCTA because you hate Riggy, Mensy and Fitzy so much that you cannot even separate the issue from the people.

Doesn't matter that Riggy, Mensy and Fitzy are not happy with OCTA because they dreamt up a TOLL ROAD that will go right through one of our neighborhoods, then their CEO bails on the only public meeting in Costa Mesa because he didn't plan his personal life accordingly.

You're fine with that - doesn't trouble you at all. How dare they be rude to the guy who walks out of a long-scheduled meeting to hear input from Costa Mesa BEFORE he hears all the input from Costa Mesa.

Truly pathetic. Wake up, take a look in the mirror, pull your heads out.

5/09/2012 04:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Costa Mesa Conscience said...

luvmyhub wrote:
"his wife feels differently than you. hope that's OK."

Great. How about encouraging the lad to:

A) Get a real job;
B) Get some new friends and new heroes;
C) Resign from the sanitary district position and not run up tens of thousands in legal bills for us citizens.

5/09/2012 05:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Laughing hysterically said...

I second the motion! Can we call for a vote please? At this point, I’m sure the majority of those 11,000 people who supported the fool would like for him to step down from the san district too. Btw Fitz, nice of you to post that little message from your wife. It’s not like we really believe it was her, but good try!

5/09/2012 05:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Twinkie Defense said...

The only thing Fitzy loves more than Riggy, is a full, cool box of Twinkies. I'm not kidding when I say this, but he had 2 or 3 while waiting to get up and stroke Riggys ego. Please slow down with those cream filled snacks Fitzy it's not good for your weight or your pre-diabetic system.

5/09/2012 10:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Change 405 said...

The Haters are so blinded by anger they cannot even post anything on an important topic.

Looks like Fitzy is getting to them, that is good.

405 project is important. City must do something, or Wendy will simply get a meeting in Costa Mesa where we can run around and put stickers on options in a grand dog & pony show. Wendy will say OCTA "listened", Haters will applaud. Costa Mesa will have a highway run through it, wider, with low and minimal Costa Mesa benefits.

And anyone who attempts to make change, Haters label a bully.

Go Riggy. Go Mensinger. Go Monahan. Go Bever

5/10/2012 07:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Crock Pot Cooking said...

Change 405--your last comment is 100% correct.

Go Riggy--to the minority side of the Council in Nov.

Go Mensinger--back to all those kids sports, because you'll have plenty of time in Nov.

Go Monahan--serve some drinks in your run-down booze barn

Go Bever--to City Council retirement in Nov. Thank God

5/10/2012 10:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Love it! said...

WOO HOO!!!! I’m with Crock Pot! Let the fun begin!

This blog is so awesome. I love the way it lights up whenever anybody mentions the “Biggest Loser” Jim Fitzpatrick. Oh wait, here’s an idea, maybe he can take that big fat belly, his stupid thumbs up pose, and his hideous sport coat and try out for that show. I can see it now….bye bye PBS, hello prime time NBC! Then he can whine to the whole world about how much he’s been bullied on this little blog. And yes change 405, you bet we’re haters...and darn proud of it!! All this stuff makes me laugh so hard, there is no room for anger.

Have a nice day, Jimmy boy! aka the Biggest Loser and Biggest Tool!!

5/10/2012 04:42:00 PM  

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