As Predicted - Another Long Meeting
OK, where do you start when discussing another long, long council meeting? The one last night/this morning stretched from 6:00 p.m. Tuesday until 1:30 a.m. today. And, as is usually the case, once the clock moves past midnight most councils - and this one in particular - simply do not perform at their best. You can read the agenda HERE. If you wish, the video feed of the council meeting is up and can be viewed HERE. And you can read Thy Vo's coverage of the meeting in the Orange County Register HERE.
GOOD STUFF IN COSTA MESA
The meeting DID begin on a positive note, with presentations being made to a group of local Girl Scouts for their individual outstanding contributions to the community; to a representative of the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction, which begins at the Orange County Fair and Event Center this Friday and runs through the weekend and the introduction of the new Commanding Officer of the 1/5 Marine Battalion from Camp Pendleton, Lt. Col. Terry Johnson.
GOOD MOVE, MAYOR
Mayor Eric Bever made a "command decision" of his own and decided to move New Business Item #1, the discussion of a resolution opposing Alternative #3 of the I-405 Improvement Project, to the front of the line, apparently in recognition of the large turnout of concerned residents on this issue. Good move, Eric. Unfortunately, it may have been his ONLY good move at this meeting. So, that item was heard following Public Comments, Council Member Comments and the CEO Report.
Following the Public Comments, where nearly a dozen speakers used their time to offer constructive criticism to the council - including observations that recent comments from the dais were sounding more and more like campaign stump speeches and that courtesy and decorum was lacking, Bever led off his comments by attempting to refute the claims by some speakers that crime in Costa Mesa is on the rise. Astounding!
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer used his time to puff himself up about the "great job" THIS council is doing improving infrastructure and "right-sizing" government. And, in his own special way, he found a way to weave yet another insensitive comment into his presentation, paraphrasing the recently-deceased Rodney King, saying, "It would be nice if we could all just get along."
MENSINGER WAS, WELL, MENSINGER
Steve Mensinger used much of his time to practice his stump speech. It needs a lot of work!
HATCH CLARIFIES THE FITZPATRICK REPLACEMENT SCENARIO
During his report CEO Tom Hatch mentioned the recent OC Grand Jury Gold Honor Roll for Transparency that Costa Mesa received. I mentioned this in an earlier post. He also confirmed that applications are being taken until Friday, July 29th, for a replacement for Jim Fitzpatrick on the Planning Commission. He also confirmed that the Planning Commission will review the applications and make a recommendation to the City Council, who will make the ultimate choice for a person to fill the remainder of Fitzpatrick's term - through January 2015. There had been some confusion about just how long this appointment would be for and Hatch cleared that up.
I-405 IMPROVEMENT PROJECT
Finally, at 7:30, the discussion of the I-405 Improvement Project began. The council had already sent strong signals that they were not happy with Alternative #3, which would create years of construction chaos in the north part of town and provide virtually NO benefit to Costa Mesa. By this time more than 125 people were in the auditorium, at least half of whom were there only for this subject.
TCA SUPPORTS ALT. #3
During their comments some of the council members presented us with very memorable moments. Bever, for example, compared the proposed toll lanes as a kind of "reverse wealth redistribution". Gary Monahan, a member of the Transportation Corridor Authority, told the crowd that the TCA recently voted to support Alternative #3, with only Supervisor Bates voting with Monahan to oppose it. He also told us that a member from Irvine chastised him for his vote. Each council member who spoke encouraged the audience to send comments to CalTrans. The deadline for public review has been extended until July 17th. The OCTA Highways Committee will make a recommendation at the meeting at 10:30 a.m. on August 6th and the full OCTA Board will make its choice a week later.
MOST SPEAKERS OPPOSED #3
The first nineteen speakers on this issue were strongly opposed to Alternative #3, and a couple were also opposed to ANY of the choices because of the personal impact on their property. Folks from Nevada Street, for example, were VERY concerned about the impact of the modification of the Ellis ramp that will apparently place a 20 foot high sound wall within 10 feet of their homes! In a nutshell, nobody wants Alternative #3.
EXCEPT DON HANSEN...
The final speaker - the 20th - was Huntington Beach Mayor - and our representative on the OCTA Board - Don Hansen, who is rumored to be eyeballing John Moorlach's chair on the Board of Supervisors in 2014. Bever gave Hansen nearly 15 minutes to plead his case to the council to NOT pass the resolution. He asked the council to, instead, send a letter of concern to the OCTA Board along with any and all letters opposing any of the alternatives. Hansen is also the Chairman of the Highways sub-committee that will first decide on alternatives. He asked that the council consider the broader impact - that this is a regional issue. His pleas fell on deaf ears. Finally, Monahan made the motion to pass the resolution after addressing Hansen, telling him that he understands his view and, while he'd like to honor his request, he said, "I just can't" - and made the motion. Did I mention that Monahan is running for re-election this year? The vote was 5-0. This is one of those rare issues that had total council and community support. The vote was taken at 9:05, followed by a 20 minute break.
THE "BEGINNING" IN THE MIDDLE
At 9:25 the council finally began the front part of the agenda with the Consent Calendar and I knew we were in for another long, long night. Among the highlights of those discussions was Item #7, the Request for Proposal for Municipal Facilities Maintenance. Insufficient responses had been received to the original RFP so the staff wanted to carve it up and re-issue. Jennifer Muir, Assistant General Manager of the Orange County Employees Association, who represents the interests of the Costa Mesa City Employees Association, told the council that if they proceeded they would be violating the terms of their policy 100-6. Despite the recommendation of contract City Attorney Tom Duarte to hold off, the council chose to proceed on a 3-2 vote - with Bever and Wendy Leece voting no. Bever, correctly, smelled another lawsuit.
ANOTHER RULE VIOLATION?
Item #9, a contract with several entities to provide Building Inspection and Fire Prevention services, was also opposed by Muir, citing a violation of the injunction. The council voted 4-1 to proceed with the contracts.
HUNTINGTON BEACH CHOPPER CONTRACT EXTENDED
And, the council agreed to extend the arrangement with the City of Huntington Beach for helicopter services through June, 2015 for a total not exceeding $300,000 annually.
Finally, at 10:05, we reached the first Public Hearing to be discussed - Item #2 on the agenda (#1 had been withdrawn), the first of three discussions of the distribution of Community Development Block Grand funds. Righeimer left the room because he's on the Board of Mercy House - one of the proposed recipients. The discussion continued without him until a vote was taken to approve the recommendation on Mercy House a half-hour later. He then returned for the remainder of the discussion. The discussion was lively, with Monahan complaining at length about the lack, or near lack, of funding for organizations that served the disabled. When the final vote was taken Bever offered a solution - he yanked the funding earmarked for the MIKA Development corporation - Crissy Brooks' excellent organization - and plugged it into one of those groups Monahan was complaining about. Bingo!
WILL ALL GRANTS BE ELIMINATED?
Perhaps the most distressing issue was the apparent interest this council has on doing away with these grants completely! Leece suggested a study session to evaluate this situation and Bever implied that he wouldn't be around to be involved in it, so the discussion should take place when the next council is seated next year.
WHERE'S COSTA MESA'S HEART?
Public Hearing #3 dealt with the demise of the Neighbors for Neighbors program. During the discussion, Righeimer once again demonstrated his sensitive side when he questioned the value of spending "$60,000 in staff time to feel good". It's clear from his tone, and that of Mensinger, that they are NOT in favor of this kind of community outreach if it involves spending federal dollars. As Bever said, "borrowing money from China to paint a neighbor's house". They went round and round on this philosophy... it doesn't look good for the future of these kinds of programs if they stay in control. Just wait until they have a hand-crafted Charter in place! Holy Cow!
At 11:30 p.m. the council finally got around to discussing the 2012/2013 Municipal Budget! I knew we were in big trouble.
HATCH ON LAYOFFS
Hatch launched the discussion by briefly describing the amount of work by staff and the council in putting together this final document. He addressed the layoffs of four individuals - the Information Technology Manager, two staffers from the Building Division and a staff member in the City Clerk's office - as an essential part of the equation. Their departure - which was assured by the final vote - theoretically saves the City over $400,000. Those individuals - all long-time employees - will receive 30 day layoff notices today.
YOUNG WITH THE NUMBERS
Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young then took the baton and presented the details of the numbers. As I mentioned in my earlier post, this budget represents a 15.37% increase over last year. The Capital Budget is up almost 100%! The details of the budget can be found HERE.
LEECE - NEED MORE COPS
Leece expressed great concern about rising crime with a diminished police force and suggested cuts elsewhere to provide the funding for an additional 6 officers, which would bring the authorized strength to 137 - the number consultants Management Partners recommended a year ago. The remainder of the council pushed back, with Bever stating that public safety - police and fire - represent 60% of the General Fund budget and he was quite happy with that level. Monahan suggested greater use of Reserve Officers and proposed the hourly rate for those staffers be increased to $33.00 per hour to enhance recruitment.
Leece also expressed concern for the mounting legal fees and the possibility of legal costs involved with the I-405 Improvement Project and other labor-related issues discussed earlier. Hatch and Duarte suggested that the level budgeted is just fine. I guess we'll find out. If history is any guide, we're in a lot of trouble!
Perhaps the most interesting part of this discussion was Righeimer's rant. He implied that the fire fighters should be happy to have a job and suggested that all the bargaining unit employees were greedy. He complained that speakers talked of issues in current negotiations. Of all his statements at this meeting, this one may have been the most distressing. Addressing the fact that Costa Mesa City Employee Association President Helen Nenedal stepped to the podium and requested reconsideration for the layoffs of the four employees, he said the following:
"Wake up! Get out there and see what the real world's going through! The problem with your association, the unions in this city is that you've been overreaching for so long there's nothing left to ask for and this council's finally saying No."
If you want to watch the whole thing, go to that link at the top and, once there, use the "jump" feature to go to the budget presentation.
PASSED JUST BEFORE 1:00 A.M.
So, at 12:45 a.m. before a crowd of 25 people, on a 4-1 vote (Leece voting no) the council passed the budget as proposed, including the 4 layoffs. I have this feeling that this next fiscal year is going to be a very, very long and painful time.
Next came the two RFPs - one for Graphic Design and one for Reprographics. The first one proposes outsourcing the Graphic Design function to a local company that involves no layoffs and would save the City a few bucks - around $10,000. One of the current two graphic designers plans to retire next month and the other will remain on staff for what Communication Director Bill Lobdell called a "hybrid" operation - with in-house and outsourced work being done. Former City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow - special counsel for outsourcing issues - said the City will try to work out a deal with the CMCEA to make this work, since it technically violates the current injunction against outsourcing to private companies. It was approved 4-1, with Leece voting no. One of the funny moments during that discussion was Mensinger chiming in and wanting to read a segment of the staff report on this subject. Only problem was, he was reading the wrong staff report. Pay attention, Steve! Or, as your pal, Righeimer says, "Wake Up!"
PRINTING OUTSOURCED TO COUNTY GROUP
The second item, Reprographics, will outsource the in-house printing function - the incumbent printer will soon retire - and get rid of the equipment. The organization that will take over these operations is a county entity, Orange County Publishing Services. It passed on a 4-1 vote, Leece voting no. It will become effective immediately.
The final item, Steve Mensinger's demand that we cancel our contract with auditor Mayer, Hoffman, McCann because of their involvement in the Bell scandal, commenced at 1:00 a.m. this morning! Arrgghh! And, as tired as I and the other two residents still in the auditorium may have been, the discussion and outcome was even more painful. First, Bever chose NOT to have one of the owners of the company to address the council - a shabby move, for sure. Then, when Wendy Leece invited him to speak, it was obvious that NONE of the council members had a clue what an auditing company actually does. Righeimer was "astounded" that their representatives didn't see anything wrong at Bell. Of course, what Righeimer was looking at was NOT part of the job the auditors were hired to do. He just couldn't seem to grasp that concept. Same with Mensinger. After the representative from Mayer, Hoffman, McCann was grilled mercilessly, Mensinger still maintained that they should be cut loose and that an alternate firm retained, even though this will mean significantly more work for the Finance staff as they get a new firm up to speed. After all that budget unpleasantness over the past three months, this was a real punch in the gut for Young and his staff. It's not like he doesn't have enough on his plate now, especially with Rick Kirkbride, the IT Manager, turned loose last Thursday.
ON TO THE CHARTER...
On to the next drama - the ongoing battle of Jim Righeimer's Charter - which will continue early next month with the second and final public hearing.