Rules? What Rules?
The good news from the Costa Mesa City Council meeting Tuesday night was, well, it ended Tuesday night. Considering the length of many recent meetings, the early adjournment was welcome to those of us who remained in the auditorium at 11:30 p.m. You can read Joe Serna's account in the Daily Pilot HERE, Lauren Jow's Orange County Register coverage HERE and Joe Hill's account of the meeting from the LiberalOC blog HERE.
ARROGANT BEVER BLOWS MORE STAFF TIME
Of course, that good news was more than balanced by other news. For example, in order to wrap-up this meeting before midnight, at 11:00 p.m. Mayor Eric Bever decided - and was supported by most council members - to shove New Business item #4 - the report from the Neighborhood Improvement Task Force - to a future meeting when, in Bever's words, it can start earlier so more people can attend and hear the report. That was no small insult to those of us who actually attended to hear that report and were still there. I guess the 20 or so of us still in the auditorium don't count. And, it was a terrible affront to the many city staffers and consultants who had waited five hours to provide the council with their reports, only to be shoved aside. There was a whole lot of muttering going on as they filed out of the council chambers after wasting basically a half day waiting, and waiting.
RUDE, CRUDE AND IMMATURE
Ever since he became mayor earlier this year when Gary Monahan abdicated his throne, Bever has demonstrated an increasing arrogance and impatience, having cursed from the dais and told the audience to "just go home" on another occasion. Clearly, he's tired of his job and, believe me, more than a few of us are REALLY tired of rude, churlish and infantile behavior on the dais. Instead of providing a calm mature hand guiding the proceedings, he's frequently the agitator of rude, insensitive, inappropriate behavior - like a school-yard bully who just must get the last word in.
SHUFFLING THE DECK AGAIN
This all began when Bever moved New Business #5, Civic Openness In Negotiations (COIN), to the front of the line. He didn't give us a reason, but I suspect the fact that $300 -per-hour attorney Richard Kreisler - the City's hired-gun negotiator - was part of the program and his meter was running. That meant two other contract attorneys - Celeste Brady and Chris Neumeyer (also with meters running) - had to cool their heels, instead. It also meant that councilman Steve Mensinger's scheme would be heard early in the evening, where more people in the audience would hear it. It is a campaign season, after all, and Mensinger continues to campaign from the dais.
This scheme, conjured up and presented by Mensinger, who had Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young and the aforementioned Kreisler flying as wing men, purportedly was hatched to provide more transparency to the negotiation process. Unfortunately, it appears to only work one way. One speaker, activist Robin Leffler, referred to it as "selective opacity", a term for which she gave credit to another.
Mensinger's Scheme calls for an independent negotiator - like Kreisler, at $300 per hour - to be the "principal negotiator" in employee contracts. The reason behind that requirement is that Mensinger apparently thinks that an employee - his guy, Chief Executive Officer, Tom Hatch - can't be trusted to negotiate a fair contract for the City when he might be a beneficiary of that contract. That, of course, is a steaming pile of manure. Hatch is NOT part of a bargaining unit - he has his own deal with the City Council. But, I guess Mensinger and his three pals on the dais just don't trust him. I found that to be very offensive, since Hatch may be the most honest, honorable man sitting on the dais.
INDEPENDENT ECONOMIC ANALYSIS
Mensinger's Scheme also requires an independent economic analysis of the fiscal impacts attributed to each term and condition of employment subject to the meet and confer process required by the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act. This analysis would be made available to the public at least thirty (30) days before consideration by the City Council. A very specific, detailed format was presented as part of the staff report. No details of what this analysis will cost was provided, but I doubt if it will be an insignificant amount.
WATCHING SAUSAGE BEING MADE...
Mensinger's Scheme also requires "reporting out" of closed session with the facts, as well as their significance and impact, of all prior offers, counteroffers, and the meet and confer-related bargaining positions received or made by either the City or an employee organization and that are no longer being considered. At first glance you might think, "Hey, this is great! We finally get to know all the gory details!" Well, all of that takes time and, when Kreisler attempted to explain how this would work, it was clear that the goal was to present only one side of the equation, thereby, perhaps, painting the employee associations as stubborn, greedy folks. More on that in a minute.
That particular element of Mensinger's Scheme is a classic example of micro-managing. As we've seen over the past many months, negotiations take a long time. The negotiators sit behind closed doors, trying to hammer out an agreement. Then they each take the proposals back to their respective decision makers - the council and the membership of the associations. If parts of the agreement are unacceptable to either side, back they go to that closed room for more negotiations. This back-and-forth is impacted by meeting schedules, so they can actually take months. Nothing in this plan will change that. In fact, it may exacerbate the problem.
CONTACT DISCLOSURE REQUIREMENT
Mensinger's Scheme also requires that each council member would be required to disclose the identity of any employee association representative with whom that council member has had any communications regarding the subject matter of a pending meet and confer process. This element became a flash point of controversy because councilwoman Wendy Leece proposed a similar rule that was broader in scope not too long ago. That rule, which Leece proposed be folded into this ordinance, would require council members to divulge any exparte communications they had with anyone on issues before them. Previously that was eviscerated by Jim Righeimer before it was rejected. Several speakers last night resurrected that issue, angering four council members on the dais.
Mensinger's Scheme also requires that, prior to rendering a final City Council determination regarding adoption of a memorandum of understanding, that matter shall be heard at a minimum of two (2) City Council meetings and that the materials for the matter shall be posted on the City web site for at least seven (7) days prior to the first meeting.
NO TIME LINE...
One thing that was missing from the presentation last night was a time line. As I read through the staff report and listened to the rhetoric from the dais I found myself thinking that this is going to be a VERY cumbersome ordinance to follow - a set of rules contrived by a guy who doesn't like rules in the first place - that, rather than enhance the negotiation process, will likely bog it down. When I later asked Young about this he told me they didn't have enough information yet. So, I guess this is going to be like asking us to step out onto what appears to be quicksand and hope we don't sink.
VIOLATING THE RULES - AGAIN
Perhaps the most sad, yet amusing, segment came when Leece expressed curiosity about how this plan came to fruition since it was obvious that much more than 4 hours of staff time was required to produce the report. As Hatch back-peddled, attempting to recall how it evolved he eventually acknowledged that it did, indeed, require more than 4 hours, Mensinger feigned ignorance of the rule - Council Policy 300-6 - that requires specific permission when more than 4 hours of staff time will be necessary. He said he thought it was just a suggestion! Righeimer expressed concern and implied that it was time for that rule to go!
COMING BACK AFTER LABOR DAY
Finally, after more than 90 minutes of discussion and sixteen residents rising to speak on the issue, the council voted to give it a first reading - 4-1, Leece voting no. It will return for the second reading - and perhaps some modification - the first meeting following the Labor Day holiday, September 4th. That seems somehow appropriate...
It was 9:15 before the council finally got to the Consent Calendar, which moved quickly, fortunately.
Earlier in the meeting, during Public Comments, several residents living in the 400 block of Ford Road stepped to the podium to complain about the rising crime rate on that short stretch of roadway. Thefts, burglaries and assaults were reported. After hearing their comments Bever postulated that it was due to the recent addition of secure storage facilities for our rising homeless population at The Crossing Church, just up the road on Newport Boulevard. He and Righeimer speculated that the problem was due to the motels in the area. They've budgeted $500,000 this year to "purchase" one or more. Not a chance with that pittance but it gives him a chance to pontificate. This provided Righeimer with an opportunity for one of his predictable anti-union rants. I've provided you with a little video clip in which he 1) discusses confidential details about negotiations and 2) points his pen at Police Chief Tom Gazsi and angrily directs him to re-deploy his motor officers to solve this problem immediately - a violation of our current Municipal Code. Perhaps the most telling quote from him during this rant, when Leece tried to stop him from divulging information about negotiations he said, "I can talk about whatever I want to talk here." You can watch his multiple melt-down below.
ABUSE OF POWER
During Council Member Comments Mensinger went off on a tangent, telling us about a trip he recently made "with a congressman" - that probably means Dana Rhorabacher - to Mojave for a visit to what has become a civilian space port. He regaled us with stories about the success of private industry doing things better and cheaper than the government can. No hidden message there - it was right out in the open. However, the end of the story was his real point. He told us about meeting with an Air Force General who managed to get by on only $9,700 per month, plus housing and uniforms. The clear implication here was that our municipal employees make more than a man who laid his life on the line for his country. I've never been so offended by such shameless electioneering - a rant so full of misrepresentations it's impossible to know where to start. Suffice it to say, Steve Mensinger will continue to campaign from the dais, using his bully pulpit - a perfect term in his case - to distort facts.
GOOD-BYE, BIG LEAGUE DREAMS
One bright spot was the shelving of Gary Monahan's proposal to privatize the TeWinkle Park Athletic Complex. After months of meetings by the task force created for that issue, the council finally came to their senses and decided to abandon this bogus scheme. The sticking points - in addition to the groundswell of complaints from Mesa del Mar residents - was the sale of alcohol within 600 feet of Davis School and a parking problem that seemed unresolvable. As predicted, Righeimer suggested that Bob Knapp, recently hired Recreation Manager, should be tasked with finding new ways to maximize that facility.
The new ordinance to apply some controls over Wireless Telecommunication Towers in the public right-of-way was passed after presentions by Public Works Director Ernesto Muno and Deputy City Attorney Chris Neumeyer. Monahan asked that the height restriction be RAISED to 35 feet - five feet higher than the staff recommendation!
ANOTHER RFP APPROVED AND PUT ON HOLD
The other big item on the agenda was the contract for Parks and Landscape Maintenance. The short version of this issue is that the staff did a good job of vetting the seven (7) applicants and seemed to have made the correct decision on a choice of vendor. However, due to the injunction currently in place, this contract may NOT be implemented until the pending lawsuit is resolved. It was implied by Righeimer that if his Charter passes action might be taken sooner. Contract City Attorney Tom Duarte told us that a trial date may be set soon - maybe next week. He didn't expect to see it on a docket until after the first of the year. So, we wait for November on this one. The council voted to approve the contract and authorized Hatch to implement it when possible.
Righeimer used this issue to, again, blame the employees for the problem, implying that they - not the council which caused this problem when they chose to not follow their own rules last year - were responsible for the City not saving over $1 million on this project - a plan that will see 13 of their fellow employees terminated.
I was left with a couple strong recollections of last night's meeting. First, many members of this council abhor rules and will ignore them any chance they get. This arrogant disregard for rules in place to protect the residents should make every resident shudder when contemplating Jim Righeimer's Charter passing and placing unfettered power in their hands.
The other feeling I came away with was deep sadness from watching Bever and Righeimer run roughshod over speakers and Wendy Leece. Decorum has taken an extended holiday and I don't expect it to return until a new council is seated. Watching Righeimer rant meeting after meeting is getting pretty old. As he pontificates and vilifies he acts like people are not watching, for goodness sake. And Bever continues to set low watermarks for his personal behavior, demonstrating that he really never has advanced past puberty. His junior high school antics are an embarrassment for our city and we just have to hope he won't step so far over the line that he creates legal complications for us. Thank goodness he's termed-out.