Budgets, Nuisances And Curious Choices
'Twas another long, long night at Costa Mesa City Hall yesterday. Once again the City Council meeting ran past midnight - 12:35 to be precise. It was an even longer day for the council, which preceded the regular council meeting with a two and a half hour closed session that began at 4:00 p.m.
THE THUMBNAIL VERSION
The short version of events - the staff reports for the meeting were fully 3 inches thick - we have a balanced budget (that included $650,000 for Fairview Park lights); we don't yet have a Public Nuisance Ordinance; we're switching insurance brokers; we're changing the rules for Field Use allocations; Tom Hatch got his raise; some CDBG fund recipients got a nice surprise; somebody else is going to be managing our money and the most qualified person WAS NOT selected to fill a vacancy in the Pension Oversight Committee. That may be enough information for most of you, but here are the details.
A VERY POSITIVE BEGINNING
After beginning thirty minutes late due to the Closed Session dragging out for two and a half hours, the meeting began with a much-deserved recognition of Costa Mesa High Schoolers. The young women of Costa Mesa Cheer were recognized for their prodigious accomplishments this past year - they were ranked 6th internationally for their activities. Mayor Jim Righeimer was joined by Costa Mesa High School Principal Dr. Phil D'Agostino presenting awards. D'Agostino stressed that the average GPA for the cheer squad was 3.83! An astounding number for any group of high school scholar/athletes. This photo shows those who attended last night. The seniors were at "Senior Recognition Night" at another venue. Congrats to the ladies.
GENIS...During Council Member Comments Sandra Genis encouraged community members to get involved in the update process for the city's General Plan. There's a "visioning" meeting tonight at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) beginning at 6:00. She also expressed concern about item #13 on the Consent Calendar, although she didn't pull it for separate discussion. She was concerned that the prolific use of consulting companies to perform building inspection services has led to a lack of continuity and consistency in the way projects are inspected and suggested more in-house inspectors should be hired to retain that continuity. She also addressed concerns made by residents about the Banning Ranch development, indicating that virtually ALL the traffic from that project would be directed onto Costa Mesa streets.
Wendy Leece gave a report on the Relay For Life event held last weekend. She attended the 27th anniversary celebration of Someone Cares Soup Kitchen, emphasizing how many Costa Mesa residents - including many residents of the Tower on 19th (formerly Bethel Towers) use it. She also stressed the need for residents to be safe during the July 4th holiday Fireworks season - it's no longer just one evening in our town. She also expressed concern about Righeimer's commentary in the Daily Pilot on Hatch's raise that was published BEFORE the council had actually voted on it. Contract City Attorney Tom Duarte basically said "no big deal". I spoke with him later on this subject and he said he'll have to study the timeline, indicating that council members cannot discuss "strategy" discussed in closed sessions. That's not how I read the Brown Act, so he's going to get back to me.
Steve Mensinger asked Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz about the status of a radar speed sign on Susan Street in response to the public outcry about the tragic accident that took the life of an Estancia High School graduate over the weekend. Munoz said the sign will be acquired using grant funding, but nothing is in the pipeline yet. Mensinger also mentioned the Fairview Park tour Saturday morning beginning at 8:00 a.m.
Gary Monahan said he'd keep his comments short and brief - I smiled - and congratulated ALL graduates this spring.
Righeimer spoke about how he and Mensinger did ridealongs with the CMPD Monday night when, in cooperation with the Orange County Probation Department, snatched up seven violators and sent them back to jail. As he extolled the virtues of the officers involved I found myself thinking, "It's about time you began to appreciate the work our police force does to keep this city safe!" Righeimer, apparently now "Mister Law and Order", said, "If you're on probation in Costa Mesa we're going to check on you. If you're not straight you're going to jail!" Tough talk from a guy who has no clue about law enforcement.
During his time CEO Hatch introduced our new Economic and Development Services Director/Deputy CEO, Gary Armstrong. He also mentioned the impact of the 60th Anniversary celebration that will be held in 10 days. He spoke of the Fireworks "challenges" - I'm beginning to hate that word - and of the new Fire Department re-deployment that began Sunday with the advent of two leased paramedic units. This is the very beginning of Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold's plan to improve emergency response service in Costa Mesa and save a bucket of money, too. Hatch also mentioned the General Plan process, indicating the "visioning" meeting tonight and the Public Hearing next Monday, June 24th, at the Planning Commission meeting.
MONAHAN'S RUDENESS SET THE TONE
insurance brokerage services. This has been dragging for months - the original RFP was issued last August. After a brief discussion the Executive Vice President of our current provider, Alliant Insurance Services, stepped up to provide information about his organization and their services and seemed concerned that the council was about to change horses after more than two decades. Monahan, in a bit of rudeness seldom seen from the dais, basically spit in his eye - telling him flat out that they had not done a good job for the city. The man was left almost speechless. The council, on a 3-2 vote (Genis and Leece voted no) chose to select Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services to provide the services. I must tell you that this seemed more than a little strange...
HATCH'S RAISE AND THE BROWN ACT
Wendy Leece pulled item #15, the new contract for CEO Hatch, for discussion. Actually, she was concerned about the timing of Righeimer's Daily Pilot commentary providing all the details of the proposed contract amendment last week before the council had a chance to vote on it tonight. I mentioned contract City Attorney Tom Duarte's response. I've not heard back from him yet. Seems peculiar that the details discussed in a closed session would be divulged BEFORE the council had a chance to consider and vote on them. I'll report back when I hear back. The contract was approved on a 5-0 vote. The issue was never about whether Hatch deserved a raise. In fact, one speaker stepped up and said he should have had it a year ago!
CHANGING THE FIELD USE ALLOCATION POLICY
The council voted on all the other items on the Consent Calendar in one vote, 5-0. So, for example, they approved the Parks and Recreation Commission's request to change the Field Use Allocation Policy without discussion. This will be floating back before the council and I suspect there will be A LOT of discussion by the various user groups that are impacted by this change at that time.
PUBLIC NUISANCE ABATEMENT ORDINANCE
At 7:45 we finally got to Public Hearing #1, the Public Nuisance Abatement Policy. An hour and a half later, after many speakers addressed this issue with concern and the council flogged it, the decision was made to NOT consider this a "first reading" because the proposed ordinance needed too much work. It will return to the council for the real "first reading" the first meeting in August.
Many concerns were expressed by council members and the public about the overly-broad language in the ordinance. It's clear that one of the intentions of this ordinance is to provide a tool to "manage" drug and rehab homes and problem motels - I'm OK with that because we have too few tools in our toolbox for that purpose - but many expressed concerns about the possible mis-use of this particular version on regular residents. I actually heard the term "gestapo" uttered by a staff member during the discussion! I think the council did the wise thing by voting, 5-0, to shove this back to the staff for a major rehab before moving forward. We'll write more about this when it returns this summer.
CDBG PUBLIC SERVICE GRANTS
Following a much-needed fifteen minute break the council re-convened at 9:30 for another contentious issue, Public Hearing #2, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Public Service Grant Allocations. You can read the staff report HERE. This item had been continued from an earlier meeting during which it became clear that some members didn't want to use these funds for some of the organizations recommended by the ad hoc committee charged with evaluating and recommending the amounts. Mensinger, for example, preferred to put these dollars into infrastructure improvements, citing that it was "borrowed money". Geez! Anyhow, Hatch had modified the recommendations, chopping funding for several of the organizations and recommending only about 2/3 of the available funds be used, with the remainder going back to capital improvements. At that time there was vagueness about the amount of money actually available from the government. That issue was resolved and we were told there was actually more money available than anticipated. One might have thought that revelation would soften the positions of certain council members - NOPE!
RESTORING NEEDED, VALUABLE FUNDING
So, the upshot is that, on a 3-2 vote (Mensinger and Righeimer voting NO), the council voted the CEO recommendations on Attachment A except they added $41,000 when they chose to restore the $20,000 for Collette's Children's Home, the $10,000 for Alzheimer's Family Services Center and provide $19,000 to Youth Employment Services and $10,000 to Elwyn. Genis led the charge with crisp reminders of the obligation the council had to the previously-approved Consolidated Plan and Monahan and Leece went along. In fairness to the opposition, they had proposed to consider funding YES and Elwyn via the General Fund in the budget considerations later, but there was no guarantee that would happen. This was a good move by the council. Oh, yes.. Righeimer had earlier excused himself while the potential funding for Mercy House - he's a board member - was considered. The council approved the CEO's recommendation on that one, 4-0.
Next up was Public Hearing #3, dealing with CDBG and HOME funding. They took ten minutes and approved the staff recommendation on a 5-0 vote.
At 10:50 the discussion of the Municipal Budget began, with Hatch and Director of Finance and Information Technology, Bobby Young, carrying the ball. You can read that staff report HERE. It includes a fifteen (15) item list prepared by Hatch with his recommendations folding in the comments by council members during two previous study sessions on this issue. As the discussion proceeded and decisions had to be made about where to find funds for some of those items, Mensinger suggested one source might be Hatch's $1 million contingency fund. Righeimer slapped that one back with gusto, indicating they were NOT going to use the Contingency Fund before the budget was even approved. I smiled.
FAIRVIEW PARK LIGHTS
Nine residents stepped up to address issues in the budget - most of them concerned about spending $650,000 for lights in Fairview Park parking lots. This issue, alone, generated a lot of heat and not much illumination (sorry, couldn't resist). One of the most laughable parts was when Mensinger had the staff play a video clip he apparently made as he drove through the south part of Fairview Park one night, alternately turning on and off the headlights on his truck to demonstrate how dangerous it was at night in the parking lot without lights. On, Off... On, Off... On, Off. I found myself wanting to scream to him, "Well, don't turn your lights off, you dummy!" - but I didn't, although I do confess to muttering it to myself. Eventually, the council voted on this part of the budget all by itself, and it passed on a 3-2 vote, with Genis and Leece voting NO.
FINALLY PASSED AT MIDNIGHT
Eventually, it was decided to look for funding for items 9, 10 and 11 - all capital projects - in the fall, after we see how the budget year is progressing. Items 12, 13, 14 and 15 might find funding from savings from the Jail outsourcing, although Genis expressed concern that those savings should actually be plowed back into law enforcement needs. The council passed our Fiscal Year 2013-2014 budget of $132,280,839 on a 5-0 vote as the clock struck midnight. It seemed somehow appropriate.
RELIEVED, THEY MOVE FASTER
Following a seven minute "new day" potty break, the council passed Public Hearing #5, the Appropriations Limit, 5-0. They also made short work of Old Business #1, the three-year contract for managed investment services when they voted, 5-0 to award the contract to Chandler Asset Management, Inc. to help Young and his staff manage our assets.
New Business #1 was the selection of a replacement for Shawn Dewane, who resigned due to scheduling conflicts, on the Pension Oversight Committee. This is the group that has been meeting WEEKLY since it was formed - it will meet again tonight. The staff report, HERE, contains the applications for those who had previously applied, but had not been selected, from which the council was expected to choose a new member. So, logic might suggest you'd look them over and pick the most qualified person, right? Guess again!
Leece did just that and suggested the council appoint Thomas J. Lightvoet to the committee. Looking over the information provided he looks to be the most highly qualified candidate - by far! In fact, if you were to attempt to build the perfect resume for this kind of a volunteer assignment, his would be the one you'd come up with. He's worked for one of the most prestigious investment consulting firms in the country. He owned his own pension advisory business. He was a trustee of the Orange County Employee's Retirement System for decades.
However, when Righeimer heard that name he reacted like he'd just stepped in dog poop! He didn't even attempt subtlety when he threw that nomination back in Leece's face. His reaction surprised even me, and I'm used to seeing him in these little fits of pique.
Instead, he offered up Ronald Robertson, a 25 year resident and small business owner (construction-related) whose adult children all went to the same school Righeimer's girls attend. Robertson, who may be an absolutely great guy, has NO experience that is relevant to the assignment on the Pension Oversight Committee. He was chosen on a 5-0 vote. Imagine that!
WESTSIDE DEVELOPMENT SCREENING
Finally, the council spent the next 20 minutes or so discussing New Business #2, the screening request for a Westside live/work development, before adjourning to the meeting of July 2nd at 12:35 a.m. Yawn!