ONE MORE TIME... This evening, St. Patrick's Day, 2012, I find myself thinking about the events of this date a year ago with great sadness. Yes, I've written about it already, and, yes, I briefly said Thank You, but it wasn't enough.
A HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT I want to say Thank You to all the employees of the City of Costa Mesa who, despite being forced to work in what has become a toxic, hostile work environment that has made you constantly look over your shoulders as you try to do your jobs, kept on doing your best. The actions of some of the leaders of our city have tried to pit employee against employee and cause distrust of the folks who occupy the fifth floor of City Hall. You are asked to do the same amount of work that you and the 25% of the staff now departed had done in the past. And yet you soldier on.
OUTSOURCING In the past year, since that first mountain of layoff notices were handed to 203 of your compatriots and young Huy Pham took his life by leaping off the roof, circumstances have seemed to just get worse each month. Your contributions to this city have been belittled and your spokespersons chided. In many cases you've been required to prepare Requests for Proposals that may result in you losing your jobs. And yet you soldier on. LEADERS CAUSE DISCONTENT Some of your leaders prowl the halls creating chaos and discontent. They violate established rules with arrogant disregard for the consequences. And yet you soldier on.
VILIFICATION The City has chosen to publicize your compensation, apparently in an attempt to make you seem like greedy laggards, and has subjected you to region-wide vilification. All this despite the fact that you've received no pay increases for a couple years now. And yet you soldier on.
SOME HAVE LEFT You have been accused of being the reason for budget problems and many of your peers have chosen to take early retirements or just leave for another job in another city, even though each bargaining unit has stepped up to the plate and offered concessions to help the City through tough financial times. And yet you soldier on.
WHATEVER YOUR JOB... Whether you've worked at the city for three years or thirty - whether you sweep our streets, maintain our parks, keep our vehicles running, maintain our buildings, remove the graffiti that stains our walls, fight our fires, rescue those of us who need medical aid, police our streets and keep us safe, pay our bills, manage our planning, or help spin the City position on issues - whatever the job you do for me and the rest of the nearly 110,000 residents of this wonderful town - Thank You for hanging in there through these tough times.
I STILL NEED SOME HELP... I feel this message is still inadequate, so I'm going to ask the amazing Amanda Marshall to help me tell you how I feel about you all. Whatever the challenges that are placed in your paths in the future, Thank You for all you do - I Believe In You.
LATE AGENDA ITEM ADDITION FOR TUESDAY In a surprise move, an item was added to the Consent Calendar of the City Council meeting agenda for next Tuesday's meeting late in the day Friday, assuming, perhaps that nobody would notice. WRONG! You may recall, Consent Calendar items may be voted upon as a group unless a member of the council or public pulls an item for separate discussion. I can guarantee you that this item will get "separate discussion"!
IF APPROVED, WILL STIFLE FREE SPEECH The item in question, "Modification of the Order of Business for the City Council Agenda", HERE, will, if enacted, make it much more difficult for residents to present their views to the City Council and to hear plans for the near and distant future from CEO Tom Hatch. BEVER - COUNCIL MORE IMPORTANT THAN RESIDENTS This move, suggested by new/old part-time, part-time Mayor Eric Bever, moves Council Members' Reports, Comments and Suggestions from the end of the agenda to the front, immediately following Special Presentations. Public Comments and the City CEO Report will be shoved out to the end of the agenda following New Business. The report from the City Attorney will be the final item on the agenda.
ARROGANCE OF POWER CODIFIED According to the Staff Report, "This modification will allow the City Council to getto the critical items of the day and provide further clarification to the public regarding current events taking place within the community." In other words, the council's "work" is more important than anything the residents have to say, so make them wait until the very end of the meeting if they want to yap about something.
NEW ORDER OF BUSINESS If this move is adopted as proposed the order of business on future agendas will read as follows:
Closed session (as needed)
Pledge of Allegiance
Moment of Solemn Expression
Roll Call and Call to Order
Closed Session Reports
Council Members' Reports, Comments and Suggestions
City Attorney Report
DEMONSTRATES BEVER'S DISDAIN In my opinion, this is a load of crap! It clearly demonstrates the disdain Bever has for the residents of this city and for the process by which they are able to address grievances to their elected (and appointed) leaders and to hear the plans for the future of the city by the CEO. If the four male members of the council vote to support this - Wendy Leece will almost certainly vote against this outrageous move - it will be one more reason why the residents of this city should feel very uncomfortable about how these men do business.
COUNCIL - WE'RE MORE IMPORTANT This move shows us that the majority on this council feel that THEY are more important than the constituents they are supposed be serving. However, that concept - serving - is an alien concept to at least a couple of them. Those of us who have been watching for a little while know that Bever doesn't accept criticism well. As has been widely reported, recently he responded to a recent critic with the following comment, "If you don't like it, tough luck!" Well, it is, indeed, our "tough luck" to have this petulant buffoon sitting in the big chair now.
RECALL? - "TOUGH LUCK" Those angry about this might think, "Well, why don't we recall this guy?" Again, it's our "tough luck" because, according to the state government code, there is insufficient time between now and when his term expires the end of this year to mount a recall effort. So, we're stuck with him for nine more months and I've got a strong feeling that we're going to be feeling like a pregnant woman in the fall and can hardly wait to get it over with. Heck, he's already giving me morning sickness and he's only been in office since last Tuesday!
KIDS WILL HAVE TO VIOLATE CURFEW! As I've said many times, you just can't take your eyes off these guys for a split second. Council watchers know that most meetings over the past couple years have gone late into the night - many past midnight. That means folks interested in addressing non-agenda items with the council will have to bring a pillow and pack a lunch if they plan to stick it out. That means that the many young people - high-schoolers - who have recently addressed the council on a variety of issues like banning Styrofoam containers from restaurants, will have to violate city curfew laws if they want to do so in the future.
REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER This move is only the most recent of many by the majority on this council that demonstrate very clearly that they don't really care what the people think - they are going to do what THEY want to do, period. I can only hope the voters of this city remember this kind of stuff in November, when three seats on the council are up for grabs.
NOTE: As I mark this day I'm going to intersperse some links to entries I wrote a year ago on this issue. Just click on the title if you wish to read more. I'm also going to include some video clips from that tragic time, to help us all remember what happened on St. Patrick's Day, 2011.
*** A SAD ANNIVERSARY MARKED Tomorrow, March 17th - St. Patrick's Day - marks the first anniversary of what may have been singularly the worst day in Costa Mesa's history. It was on that day that the new, misguided City Council authorized the issuance of 6-month layoff notices to nearly half the city staff. 203 people received those notices and, as a sad exclamation point to that event, a 29-year old maintenance worker who had been called in from home - where he was on sick leave - to receive his notice, Huy Pham, leaped to his death from the roof of City Hall. Due to the tense circumstances, Chief Staveley and his command staff authorized a protective detail for Steve Mensinger and Jim Righeimer, who were escorted home and officers were posted outside for the night.
MONAHAN'S MALFEASANCE The pain of the day was exacerbated by then-mayor Gary Monahan's insensitivity to the situation. Instead of going to City Hall to see about the welfare of the employees, he chose to remain at his gin mill and pull beer taps and party with his customers while wearing his cute little cap and kilt. He later told a television crew, "What was I supposed to do? It was the biggest day of my life!" I speculated at the time that he may have doomed his political future with his actions that day.
QUIET REMEMBRANCE THAT NIGHT A candlelight vigil was held at the site of Pham's death that evening. Dozens of employees and residents gathered to quietly and respectfully pay their respects to Pham.
DISASTROUS PRESS CONFERENCE The next day, March 18th, called a press conference that, rather than calm the situation, only added fuel to the growing fire of discontent. As it turned out, it was a bellwether of things to come - an informational meeting that provided no information. This YouTube video tells that story.
FORMAL RECOGNITION OF THE LOSS That afternoon there was a formal memorial service at City Hall in the parking lot near where Pham died. Dozens of employees and residents gathered to hear him eulogized and to pay their respects. The display of flowers, candles and other mementos grew.
MEDIA WAS EVERYWHERE As you might expect, the news media was all over this story. Helicopters hovered over City Hall on the 17th and television crews lined the parking lot for what seemed like days at a time.
THE FLASH POINT This event was the flash point for more than a year of turmoil in Costa Mesa that degenerated into virtual walls being built between employees and city management, lawsuits being filed and inept management displayed on a regular basis. I think it's safe to say that this has been the worst, most contentious year in the history of our city.
THE STORY STARTED EARLIER This story actually began earlier in 2011, when a two-person "Working Group" consisting of Gary Monahan and Jim Righeimer recommended to the full council that consideration should be given to outsourcing nearly every job in the city. That set the tone for the next few weeks, which culminated in the required 6-month notices being distributed on St. Patrick's Day.
OUTSOURCING Over the next few months the Outsourcing issue dominated the headlines in our city and seemed to occupy every waking moment for the city staff. Meeting after meeting filled to capacity with angry, frustrated employees. It was not a happy time.
STAVELEY'S DEPARTURE The ham-handed way this issue was handled finally forced then Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley - a man with 40 years of law enforcement leadership - to resign leaving behind a caustic letter that pointed out the folly of this city council in no uncertain terms.
DUMPING A.B.L.E. Simultaneously, the council - in a bogus attempt to plead municipal poverty - decided to disband the AirBorne Law Enforcement organization (A.B.L.E.) to save some money, which kept the city in turmoil.
INJUNCTION, GAZSI AND THE CHINA TRIP About that time the employees won a preliminary injunction against the outsourcing scheme and a new police chief, Tom Gazsi, was hired. Then Righeimer and public affairs manager Dan Joyce went off to China on a boondoggle to theoretically bring business from an empty Chinese city to Costa Mesa... a kind of arrogant, in-your-face move that rankled most of the rank and file employees.
EMPLOYEE COMPENSATION Then the city, in another step to what they called "transparency", released a detailed employee compensation report, which was widely misinterpreted and only led to more strain between the city, employees and the public.
POLICY 100-6 And then it was determined that, in addition to not following the advice of then-City Attorney Kim Barlow initially on their outsourcing scheme, the council also ignored council policy 100-6 and, as a result, had to re-start the entire RFP process over again. And, of course, this just kept the turmoil roiling.
JIM RIGHEIMER'S CHARTER Then, last fall, Righeimer announced that he wanted Costa Mesa to be come a Charter City and promptly charged the new contract City Attorney to come back with a plan. What actually happened was that Righeimer went away and cobbled together a short cut-and-paste document that was tailored to meet his own personal political agenda, including some of his pet peeves from the past - like Paycheck Protection, for example. This issue has only perpetuated the turmoil in the city from last November until the current day.
GARY JUMPS DOWN And then Gary Monahan stepped down as Mayor and our part time, part time lame duck councilman, Eric Bever, was selected to replace him in the big chair for the remaining 9 months of his last (we hope) term.
THANKS TO THE EMPLOYEES Chaotic doesn't come close to describing this past year. Personally, I'm extremely grateful to those loyal, hardworking employees who have remained on the job, working hard, despite the hostile workplace that has been created by this current council.
ANTICIPATING NOVEMBER I hope we all remember just what created this terrible situation when it comes time to choose three council members in November. That is when we can take this city back from the lock-step lemmings who are following orders from the Orange County Republican Party and get back to actually managing this city with an even hand.
A DIFFICULT YEAR A year ago tomorrow young Huy Pham, a city maintenance worker, jumped to his death from the roof of City Hall after having been called to work from a medical leave to receive a 6 month layoff notice. A BRIEF TREE-PLANTING CEREMONY Today at noon the Costa Mesa City Employees Association had a brief service on the lawn at City Hall at which a tree was planted in remembrance of Pham. Dozens of his friends and co-workers took time to join the family in this remembrance. Some wore lapel pins with Pham's photo on it. I was honored to have been invited to this short, poignant service and have captured a few photos from this event. LEECE OFFERED A FEW WORDS Costa Mesa City Employees Association President Helen Nenadal introduced the Pham family and councilwoman Wendy Leece read some relevant passages and encouraged the assembled city staffers to continue to pull together and keep on doing their jobs. Balloons were released as a symbol of letting go and moving forward.
A GRATEFUL FAMILY I had a chance to meet Huy Pham's mother at this ceremony. She also spoke to the assembled employees and friends and expressed her gratitude for all they have done to remember her son.
A WORTHY REMEMBRANCE I'll write more on the events that began last St. Patrick's Day in another entry later today. For now, I'm glad the employees were permitted by City management to plant this lovely tree in Pham's honor and hope to soon see the placement of a memorial plaque at that site in his honor, as well.
Last night I joined at least 200 other interested parties at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center for a forum on Jim Righeimer's Charter conducted by the grass-roots organization, Costa Mesans For Responsible Government - CM4RG. I must say that it appeared to be a rousing success. The crowd was so large that the back wall of the room had to be opened to provide seating for an additional thirty or so attendees.
This forum, moderated by Harold Weitzberg and CM4RG President Robin Leffler, presented their views of some of the critical elements of Jim Righeimer's Charter via a panel discussion and a Question and Answer period at the end.
The panelists were retired Costa Mesa Senior Planning officialPerry Valantine; retired former member of the Costa Mesa City Attorney's office, Eleanor Egan; former Mayor Sandra Genis; Back Bay High School teacher George Greenwalt and Eastside businessman Mike Harmanos. Former City Council member Katrina Foley, currently a trustee on the Newport-Mesa School Board, also helped provide answers.
VALANTINE ON LAND USE
Each panelist took five minutes to address segments of Jim Righeimer's Charter in which they had specific professional knowledge of the subject matter. Valantine, for example, discussed the land use elements. He emphasized that it won't change anything immediately, but, because the way the Charter is composed, the potential is there for very significant changes in the way the City would do business with developers.
EGAN ON ELECTIONS
Eleanor Egan discussed how elections could be handled under Jim Righeimer's Charter. She explained that, because of the way it is worded, it's possible for the City Council to just arbitrarily choose when an election is to be held. She worried about the consolidation of power in the hands of few without State oversight.
GREENWALT ON AMENDING THE CHARTER
Teacher George Greenwalt discussed what it would take to amend Jim Righeimer's Charter, and compared the number of signatures necessary as opposed to those under a General Law city - 15% vs. 10% and cited an example of Huntington Beach - a Charter City - that had an issue qualified to go before the voters but the City Council stalled the vote for two and a half years.
GENIS ON FISCAL IMPACTS
Sandra Genis, a professional land use planner, discussed fiscal impacts of Jim Righeimer's Charter, including comparing some recent legal difficulties of other local Charter Cities. She mentioned the City of Anaheim's current difficulties with their outsourced graffiti removal program, which has been a dismal failure.
MUNDEKIS ON PREVAILING WAGE AND LABOR
Non-resident panelist Reggie Mundekis, who was introduced as one of the people responsible for fighting off the sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds, addressed the issue of Prevailing Wages in public contracting and the negative side of Jim Righeimer's Charter in that regard. She spoke of the benefits of trained skilled laborers and advantages of getting jobs done by the lowest responsible bidder, as opposed to just the lowest bidder. She also, in response to a later question, read the Buena Park Charter - only a couple paragraphs long - which built in defaults to State General Law where issues were not specifically addressed in the charter. This is one of the major flaws in Jim Righeimer's Charter.
HARMANOS ON "THE TRUTH"
Mike Harmanos, an Eastside resident and businessman, discussed "What is the Truth" about Jim Righeimer's Charter, the outline of which is captured on this slide. Because of the lack of safeguards built into the document he likened it to the proverbial camel getting his nose under the tent. Eventually, little by little, that camel gets his whole body into the tent. This charter provides that little crack the camel needs.
LEFFLER ON NO-BID CONTRACTS AND TEWINKLE PARK
Robin Leffler discussed one of her main concerns - the privatization of the TeWinkle Park Sports Complex. It is her view that Jim Righeimer's Charter would permit non-competitive bidding for a concessionaire and a 99-year lease, not the 55-year lease prescribed by a General Law city. She emphasized that no-bid contracts will be allowed, and that 75% of California cities ARE NOT Charter cities.
MUCH BETTER THAN I EXPECTED
I must say that this forum turned out to be much more than I expected, both from a attendance standpoint and the quality of the presentations and the excellent questions that were posed to the panelists. I was impressed with their willingness to answer questions for which they KNEW the answers, to make educated assumptions based on their academic and professional backgrounds on others and to not answer questions where they didn't have an answer.
VERY POSITIVE AND CIVIL
I was also impressed with the very positive tone of the forum. While CM4RG clearly opposes Jim Righeimer's Charter, their presentations and responses to questions were fact-based and carried no vitriol or emotion against the proponents. For example, when one question was asked about why proponents included certain of the segments of the charter - like forbidding payroll deductions for association dues - the response was that the panelist couldn't read folk's minds, so they couldn't answer the question.
RIGHEIMER AND MENSINGER WERE PRESENT
Through it all, in the back of the room on the far right - seemed appropriate - sat Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and his sidekick, non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger. To my knowledge, neither of them submitted question cards to the moderator. They sat quietly and listened - a refreshing change.
LEECE, TOO, BUT NO BEVER OR MONAHAN
I also saw councilwoman Wendy Leece, but there was no sign of new/old Mayor Eric Bever or Gary Monahan at the meeting. Costa Mesa Television DID NOT cover this meeting, but I do know that at least one video recording was made during the meeting. Perhaps that will find it's way onto YouTube soon.
Congratulations to the Costa Mesans For Responsible Government for presenting this excellent, informative forum for the residents of our city. Depending on how a judge rules on the issue of the tardy submission of the ballot measure to the Registrar of Voters, we may see more such informational meetings as this before the June election.
A DEBATE IN THE FUTURE?
It is my understanding that offers have been made to the proponents of Jim Righeimer's Charter to hold a debate on it, but those overtures were rejected. I suspect such an event would be slightly less constrained.
JIMMY FITZY'S FLIERS ON WINDSHIELDS
The only real low point for me last night was seeing besieged Sanitary District Director and Planning Commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick skulking around in the back of the room and then finding his own, personal fliers plastered over the windshields of all the cars in the parking lot - including mine. What a pathetic guy!
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