Righeimer To Codify Quashing Of Criticism
There are a lot of items on the agenda for the Costa Mesa City Council meeting beginning at 6:00 p.m. next Tuesday, December 3, 2013, HERE, and I'll address the rest of it on another post. Nothing, however, is more important than an item stealthily placed on the Consent Calendar than the final item, #14, titled, "Modifications To Public Comments And Consent Calendar On The City Council Agenda". You can read that agenda item HERE.
This move, in my opinion and that of many other residents of this city who actually follow what goes on at City Hall and at these meetings, is a two-pronged attempt by Mayor Jim Righeimer to stifle opposing views. In the nearly three years since he took office - and power - his decisions and actions have caused a large and very vocal cadre of residents to step up and speak up during the Public Comments segment of the meetings and exercise their right - using the three minutes provided - to express their opinions, offer suggestions and criticize an individual council member or members for perceived missteps. That's the way it's supposed to work. Got a grievance? Speak up! See that finger up there? Righeimer's giving us another one...
SOMETIMES MANY SPEAKERS LINE UP - SO WHAT!?
Sometimes the Public Comments section of the meeting, which has traditionally been on the agenda early in the meeting following Announcements and Presentations, can stretch for a half-hour or more, depending on the hot button issues of the day. In the past there have been meetings where twenty or more speakers lined up to speak. In those cases the Public Comments segment could take an hour.
THE OLD (RIGHT) WAY
The Consent Calendar typically follows reports from the individual council members and the report from the CEO - after the Public Comments segment. As some may know, unless an item is "pulled" from the Consent Calendar for separate discussion and vote by a council member, staff member or member of the public, the entire Consent Calendar - there are fourteen (14) items on it Tuesday - will be voted upon as one vote. If any item is pulled - there is zero chance that Item #14 won't be pulled Tuesday - in the past the council would vote the remainder of the Consent Calendar items in one vote, then proceed to consider those items pulled in order, one at a time, with a separate discussion and vote for each. The public could comment on any such item if they choose to do so - also with three minutes allotted for that comment.
DICTATORSHIP IN ACTION
However, everything changed at the meeting of October 1, 2013. That's the meeting where the mayor, apparently tired of hearing speaker after speaker step up and criticize his policies and practices, unilaterally decided to change things on the agenda. That's when he decided to limit speakers in Public Comments to the first 10, then trail any remaining speakers to the end of the meeting. Simultaneously, he arbitrarily decided to also trail any "pulled items" from the Consent Calendar to the end of the meeting. This effectively stifles the opportunity of residents to address grievances with the council. In a recent meeting, for example, another five speakers remained after the initial ten had spoken. By the time their turn rolled around it was well past 11:00 p.m. and all had long since departed.
Similarly, items "pulled" from the Consent Calendar will typically be those some residents feel require separate discussion - for whatever reason. It might be a question about an engineering contract, or an expenditure on one of the Warrants that are usually found on the Consent Calendar. Whatever it might be, it's important to that resident, so the council should hear the issue out before voting. By trailing those "pulled" items Righeimer disenfranchises those residents who can't hang around City Hall until midnight.
ON THE CONSENT CALENDAR? REALLY?
Righeimer has run roughshod over the agenda for the past couple months with disastrous results. So, at the last meeting, he finally conceded that they should have the item placed on the agenda for official consideration by the entire council - knowing full well he has the three votes it takes to make the changes official. However, when the agenda was released last Wednesday afternoon - and after everyone had departed that might answer questions about it - the item showed up - as #14 on the Consent Calendar.
Now, here's the rub... This item is to theoretically codify the way Righeimer has been bending the rules to suit his own personal agenda - to have the council officially vote on it, right? Well, what happens to the Public Comments segment that precedes it? Will it be split again, before the vote is taken? And, if they follow Righeimer's corruption of the agenda policy before the vote is taken, Item #14 will be "pulled" and then trailed to the end of the meeting!
HOW WILL THAT WORK - EXACTLY?
And, another wrinkle to consider. If you click on that link to the full agenda at the top of this entry, then scroll down to the section marked "PUBLIC COMMENTS" and to the second paragraph, the first sentence read as follows:
Questions and comments made by public speakers may be addressed by the City Council during Council Comments or by the Chief Executive Officer during the CEO’s Report.
Well, how is that going to work, exactly, since a good number of the comments would be trailed to the end of the meeting - hours AFTER the council members and CEO have made their comments?
A LARGER PROBLEM
Also, there is a larger problem with items ON the agenda which speakers want to address. The agenda instructions says the following:
If you wish to address the City Council on a matter listed on the agenda, please complete and submit a speaker card to the City Clerk. Speaker cards will be accepted until the agenda item is called.
Well, it is NOT unusual at all for speakers to hear comments of others, then decide they have something to add to the discussion - an amplification of a statement, a different perspective or a rebuttal. This policy will foreclose that opportunity, since speaker cards will NOT be accepted once an item has been called. We've seen this happen at recent meetings and it's a travesty. And, it's not clear how Righeimer plans to apply that rule to the Public Comments segment. if he is consistent with the rule, then he could forbid someone from speaking at the "trailed" section of Public Comments who had not submitted a speaker card at the beginning of the meeting. Again, I've known speakers to jump off their couches at home while watching the meeting and dash to council chambers to address an issue when the discussion was complicated and/or contentious.
A GOOD IDEA
As one might expect, opinions on both sides of this issue have come hot and heavy to the local media. Resident Susan Shaw commented in the Daily Pilot on November 27th, HERE, that, if the mayor insists in implementing this new system, then the council should do the same. Allow one council member to speak up front and trail the rest to the end.
LEECE HAS IT RIGHT
HERE, that emphasized that by implementing this policy the mayor will be repressing free speech, and that the resident's views are every bit as important as those of developers sitting in the audience hoping to convince the council to approve their profit-making project. Please read her commentary.
Predictably, Righeimer has also produced a commentary in the Daily Pilot today, too. You can read it HERE. He recognizes the firestorm he's ignited and is doing everything he can to douse the flames before Tuesday's meeting. He talks about "balance" in the meetings, and the need to "do the city's business". Well, Mr. Mayor - just what the heck to you consider the opinions of your electorate to be if not the city's business? I guess he just doesn't like those developers sitting out there in the audience, looking at their watches and glaring at him while they wait in line for their agenda item to come up.
THE WORST "TIME THIEF"
He has complained in the past about the length of the time it takes for speakers to fully vent their views, yet he is, by far, the worst - to use Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger's new favorite term - "Time Thief" on the dais. Time after time he will rant and rave about this issue or that, sometimes going on for fifteen or twenty minutes at a pop. At the last meeting he chewed up a huge chunk of time telling the audience that he was "shocked and appalled" at the lack of public outcry about the alleged planting of a tracking device on Mensinger's truck. On and on he went - venting his spleen about something that could only be considered "city business" if you realize that those two men are actually suing our police men and women for imagined infractions and alleged stress.
AND, FROM BOREDOM CENTRAL...
EVEN BEVER DECIDED AGAINST IT
I've watched a lot of council meetings over the past decade and a half. I've seen councils come and go and I've seen attempts to juggle the agenda by more than one or two of them, including Gary Monahan. Most recently Eric Bever considered proposing a similar scheme, but even he thought better of it later.
SHALL WE COUNT?
In my opinion, Righeimer is feeling a lot of heat due to the many, many missteps he and his pals have taken over the past nearly three years. The opposition is more organized and more vocal now because his screw-ups have caused more people to begin paying attention. And, there are simply more problems in our city today.
- The advent of more drug and alcohol rehabilitation homes.
- The decline in staffing levels at the police department, already at critical levels and getting worse
- AB 109 prisoner releases.
- Our inability to attract more police officers quickly enough to back fill existing and anticipated vacancies.
- The heavy-handed negotiating tactics presently going on with the so-called "miscellaneous employees" contract.
- His ham-handed attempt to oust half those employees more than two years ago which resulted in a lawsuit that remains unresolved.
- The toxic workplace he has created, amplified by the "bunker mentality" - the "us against all of them" attitude - on the fifth floor of City Hall.
- His stubborn unwillingness to consider paying down the Unfunded Pension Liability although he keeps bringing it up as the root of all evil in the city.
- The creation of superfluous and unnecessary committees, filled by cronies to perform useless tasks while sucking up valuable staff time and keeping the real work of the city from being done promptly.
- The brewing scandal swirling around the 60th Anniversary Celebration finances.
- His willingness to expose the city to lawsuit after lawsuit, apparently considering litigation just another "cost of doing business".
- Controversies around the future of Fairview Park.
- His insistence on attempting to jam yet another charter scheme down the voters throats despite his personal charter being crushed at the ballot box just a year ago.
a basic principle of human liberty: free speech."
AND NOW, A MESSAGE FROM YOUR MAYOR...