Friday, December 27, 2013

The Losses Continue To Mount Up...

HELEN NENADAL RETIRED
A week ago I attended the retirement party for Maintenance Supervisor Helen Nenadal, who also spent the last few years as the President of the Costa Mesa City Employees Association (CMCEA).  Helen retired after proudly serving the city in a variety of roles for thirty-two years.

ONE OF THE TROOPS...
Over the past couple of years I've gotten to know Helen as she became the face of the CMCEA in its strained relationship with the management of the city.  Not a trained negotiator nor a highly educated person, she has been "one of the troops" - a peer they elected to look out for their interests.  She stepped up and addressed the City Council to present their case time after time.  She did that job well.  Her story is a classic "up from the ranks" journey - she began as a part-time recreation staffer and moved on up as opportunities presented themselves.

ROEDER, HAYMAN AND PERKINS
Her party was attended by several dozen people - current employees, former employees, retirees from all levels of the organization and members of the community and her family.  Former City Manager Allan Roeder attended, as did his former Assistant City Manager, Steve Hayman and former Human Resources head Howard Perkins.

FRANCIS, GAZSI AND GENIS
Assistant CEO Rick Francis was there, along with Police Chief Tom Gazsi - many of the CMCEA employees work for him -  and counclwoman Sandra Genis.

BERARDINO, TOO
I also saw Orange County Employee Association General Manager Nick Berardino at the party to wish Helen well in her retirement.

A LABOR OF LOVE
When Helen spoke about her career with the city she was clearly describing a labor of love - one that has been more difficult to manage over the past three years, when the attitude about employees changed at the highest levels of city management.  The current council majority has, for the most part, treated employees like boxes of nails that could be easily replaced by simply calling the closest hardware store.

SHE WAS NOT ALONE...
As I listened to Helen and others speak, praising her, I looked around the patio and realized that she was not the only person to retire within the past few days.  Three other people in the group also retired that day and more were to follow this week.  These are just the most recent to decide to bail out, leaving a tremendous vacuum of talent and institutional knowledge to be filled.  And, every resident of the city will suffer because of this loss.

MORE UNANTICIPATED TEMPS AND CONSULTANTS
I expect we'll be seeing a request for a huge budget adjustment to permit the Public Services Department to fill these vacancies with temporary employees and consultants within the next few weeks.  We've already seen projects slip because there is insufficient staff available to perform them.  We see even more overtime being required of the staff to complete what would have been normal assignments in better times.  And the acrimonious atmosphere continues to fester as the lawsuit between the City and the CMCEA and the suit filed by Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger against the members of the Costa Mesa Police Department continue unresolved.

 PAY ATTENTION
As we approach the brand new year I hope more of you will begin to pay attention to what's happening to our city.  We all should be concerned when our top elected officials consider litigation just another line item in the budget - a cost of doing business - even when it involves city employees.  We should be concerned when the toxic atmosphere they've created causes folks to retire earlier than might have otherwise been the case and still others to seek lateral moves to other cities.  This is just plain bad for the city and most of it could have - and should have - been avoided.

UNDERSTAND THE REASON...
So, when calls for service - whether for police, fire, building inspections, pothole filling, graffiti removal or almost every other service provided by the city - begin to be delayed due to staff shortages, please remember who is responsible for this.  You elected them and you can certainly show them the door starting in November.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

It's DP 103 Time Again!

A FUN READ, WITH LEGS
Today produced one of my favorite pieces of "news" - the publication of the Daily Pilot 103 list.  It's always fun to read the roster of folks who influence things in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach and this year's no exception.  You can read the article HERE and Editor John Canalis' companion piece, HERE.  I suspect many of you will go back to see previous lists, to see who's on this one for the first time and who was bumped.  These lists have legs and will get hits for years.
GAZSI IS TOP DOG THIS YEAR
Numero Uno this year is Costa Mesa Police Chief Tom Gazsi - a selection I whole-heartedly agree with.  I wish the editors had chosen a Costa Mesa photo of him, so I've given you one of my favorites here.  This one was taken at the 60th birthday party for the Costa Mesa Police Department a couple weeks ago.

CURRY AT #2
I'm not going to try to cover all the folks recognized on this list, but I do have to tease former Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry - who's running for Allan Mansoor's Assembly seat - about being "#2"  I mean, how do you fold that into a campaign?  Many people, when they hear "Number Two" probably think in scatological terms, for goodness sake!

TWEEDLE DUM AND TWEEDLE DEE
I was amused that Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger were positioned at #4 and #5 respectively. First, because those guys seem joined at the hip anyhow and, second, that they are referenced for the lawsuit they filed against the members of Costa Mesa's police department!

GENIS AND LEECE
I enjoyed the fact that  Councilwomen Sandy Genis , #6,  and Wendy Leece, #9,  are in the top ten.  They continually fight an uphill battle on the dais, representing the actual residents of the city, not special interests and personal political goals.

MUNOZ AT #10
I, personally, was pleased to see Costa Mesa Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz on the list at #10.  This has been a tough year for him - I have no idea when he ever sleeps, because he's seemingly everywhere, all the time.  He's dealt with a full platter for the entire year - some of it unnecessary - and yet he goes about his job, working for the residents of Costa Mesa in a professional manner.  I also had to smile when he was ranked above his bosses, CEO Tom Hatch, #11, and Assistant CEO Rick Francis, #12, although all three men certainly deserve this recognition.

TOLL LANE FIGHTER, BEVER
I thought it was interesting that former councilman and mayor Eric Bever was named to the list again, but the reason he was - his tenacious fight against the bogus plan to add toll lanes to the I-405 Freeway - was certainly reason enough to include him at #23.

SCHEAFER ALSO WORTHY
I was happy that my friend, Mike Scheafer, was recognized, at #25, this year.  He's dedicated most of his life as a Costa Mesa volunteer and had his hands full this year with the Fish Fry AND the 60th Anniversary Celebration, which he chaired.

AND PANIAN, TOO
I thought the inclusion of retired educator and community activist Hank Panian, at #31, was certainly appropriate.  He's a member of the current Costa Mesa Charter Committee, having served on a similar body back in the early 1970s.  His wisdom, patience and institutional knowledge adds much to the deliberations.

BYRON AT #34
I smiled when I saw the name of my friend and muse, Byron de Arakal, listed at #34.  He's on his second tour on the Parks and Recreation Commission and has a very clear vision of things he wants to accomplish in his short two-year term.


ANNA VRSKA
Down at #44 we find the persistent Anna Vrska, who has made news recently as a member of the Fairview Parks Citizens Advisory Committee.  Her willingness to dig deep for facts and her tenacity have made her a force to be reckoned with.  One wonders if there might be an elected office in her future.

WELCOME ADDITIONS
At #47 and #48 we find two very vivacious young women, Becks Heyhoe and Crissy Brooks Nolf, who define community activism in Costa Mesa.  Their tireless energy toward helping those among us that need it is astounding.


CONTROVERSIAL JOYCE AND CORDON
I thought it was interesting that Costa Mesa Public Affairs Manager Dan Joyce and his strong right arm, Christine Cordon, were included this year at #65.  Both are on paid leave as part of an investigation of the controversy swirling around the 60th Anniversary Celebration costs.

VENEZIA AND SENK ON AGAIN
I thought it demonstrated the even-handedness of the Editors of this fine newspaper when they selected two columnists from their biggest competitor, the Orange County Register, for this list.  Barbara Venezia, at #67, and Amy Senk, at #92, have been included again and for all the right reasons.  Both women do a terrific job with their columns.  Venezia - vivacious wife of #28, Fairboard President Stan Tkacsyk - frequently scoops the Daily Pilot on important stories.  Senk covers Corona del Mar like a blanket with her blog, Corona del Mar Today, HERE, and also writes a column for the Register.  Kudos to both women for being chosen and to the Editors for doing the choosing.

JESS AT #59
And my friend, the legendary Jess Gilman, #59,  retired Costa Mesa Police Officer and our last School Resource Officer before he retired and became an officer in private industry providing that kind of service to school districts around the state.

AND HELEN AT #89
And, at #89, Helen Nenadal, much beleaguered President of the Costa Mesa Employees Association and 32 year employee who fought the good fight for employees rights until she retired a week ago.

EFFERVESCING AT #102
Down at #102, the effervescent Charlene Ashendorf appears on this list for her outstanding work reviving the Scarecrow Festival as part of the 60th Anniversary Celebration.  Anyone who spends any time in her presence knows it is impossible to feel down when you're around her.

SNOOZING FAIRY SHRIMP BRING UP THE REAR
I had to chuckle when the Editors named the San Diego Fairy Shrimp as #103.  Their presence in the vernal pools at Fairview Park, and the illegally-installed decomposed granite paths on top of them, has gotten Costa Mesa into deep trouble with state and federal departments.


YEP, I'M ON IT, TOO
Before I forget... Yes, I'm on the list again, for which I am humbled and very grateful.  The editors placed me at #19 - the loftiest spot on this list for me so far.  I'm happy to be placed on the list anywhere and cracking the top 20 is a thrill - I don't deny it.  I'm snuggled in there between outgoing Newport Beach Councilwoman Nancy Gardner, at #18, and my friend, retired Costa Mesa Economic Development Director and Deputy CEO, Peter Naghavi, at #20.  I also noticed that the latest voice of the oppressors, Dennis Popp, appears at #86.  Even more interesting is that the "other blogger" -  the grumpy old fella from Mesa North -  has become so irrelevant to the discussion of important issues in the community - focusing instead on DNA, plural marriage and black-on-white crime - that he no longer appears on the list.

CONGRATS AND KUDOS
Congratulations to all those appearing on this list this year.  I apologize for not mentioning more of them - they are all worthy.  And kudos to the editors and staff of the Daily Pilot for providing this recognition of those who influence events in the Newport-Mesa communities.  #19 signing off...

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

'Tis The Season

FROM OUR HOUSE TO YOURS...
This Christmas Eve we here at A Bubbling Cauldron want wish you a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

ANDY WILLIAMS describes the season perfectly...

HARRY BELAFONTE reminds us of the reason for the season...


MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY...

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Pension News From San Jose

A "MIXED" RULING
In an interesting bit of pre-Christmas pension news, a judge has ruled that San Jose - which like many cities around the state is wrestling with the skyrocketing unfunded pension liabilities - may NOT force current employees to contribute significantly more towards their pensions, but CAN cut employees' salaries to offset its increasing pension costs .  Read about it in an article from the San Jose Mercury News, HERE.

AN INTERESTING OBSERVATION
One of the very interesting paragraphs in that story reads as follows:
"City leaders may find it difficult to go through with the pay cuts, however. The City Council earlier this month approved 10 percent pay raises for cops, after police officers began fleeing the department for better-paying cities. The cop exodus has coincided with a huge increase in crime, above the California and national averages, while arrests have dropped in half in recent years."

IMPACT OF TOXIC WORKPLACE
Here in Costa Mesa we are dealing with a similar exodus, not only in the Police Department, but among the ranks of the so-called "miscellaneous employees", as well.  Folks are leaving due, in great part, to the toxic work environment created by the current elected leadership and the apprehension of attempts at draconian measures tried in San Jose, including possible municipal bankruptcy.

REPLACING LOST EXPERIENCE
As a result, we are losing hundreds of years of experience and institutional knowledge that cannot be easily replaced.  For example, it takes more than a year from the time we begin a search for a new police officer for that person to be vetted, hired and sufficiently trained before being unleashed on the populace.

STAFF SHORTAGES
Presently the City of Costa Mesa has nearly 50 vacant positions across the board from an authorized staffing strength that is already 25% smaller than in previous years. That gap will only widen as the adversarial labor negotiations proceed into the new year.  During a recent council meeting CEO Tom Hatch stated that, if expectations of the City Council are to be met, staffing levels MUST be increased - finally!  This deficiency is most pronounced in the Costa Mesa Police Department, where it is likely that early in the new year they will be able to place fewer than 100 officers on the streets and public safety will suffer.

HATCH AND CONTRACT ADMINISTRATORS
You may recall that, right after this council majority took over three years ago, I joked that their idea of a perfect city staff would be Hatch and a half-dozen contract administrators to oversee all the contractors, temps and consultants that replaced city staff.  At the time I was joking, but it looks like that's the road we are on.

OVERTIME, TEMPS AND CONSULTANTS
In the meantime, in order to get the work done, employees are burning out due to the significant overtime hours have been demanded, then criticized by members of the City Council for earning so much money!  And, it has become necessary to try to back fill some positions using expensive temporary employees and even more expensive consultants.  We recently saw a request for $200,000 in consulting support approved for the Development Services Department and will likely see something similar for Public Services - to temporarily fill the void created by a rash of retirements at the end of this year.

WHAT'S HIS PLAN?
I have no idea how Mayor Jim Righeimer plans to address the unfunded pension issue.  He's adamantly stated that he's "not sending one additional penny to Sacramento", so if he's not willing to find ways to pay down the debt, what are the alternatives?

SETTING UP MUNICIPAL BANKRUPTCY?
Well, we know that he's spending cash like there's no tomorrow - the $7.1 million budget surplus from the last fiscal year is now fully-committed, for example - and we also know that his hand-picked Pension Oversight Committee recently heard a Municipal Bankruptcy presentation by one of their members.  We also know, by his previous history and recent actions, that he is trying to "bust the unions" - destroy the employee associations that, for years, have been willing collaborators with city management - and has attempted to paint them as "union thugs".  I wouldn't be surprised if his move to Costa Mesa a few years ago was specifically planned so he could carry out that plan in a city he and his pals in the OC GOP hierarchy saw as easy pickin's.  And, is it a coincidence that one of our contracted attorney firms, Jones Day, has recently guided the City of Detroit into municipal bankruptcy?

WINNERS AND LOSERS?
The Mercury News article states that both sides won.  In actuality, I suspect both sides feel like they lost.  It will be interesting to see how that court ruling is perceived in other cities around the state, including Costa Mesa.  Meanwhile, in our city employee morale is at an all-time low, important projects are delayed because staffing levels are too low, public safety is in jeopardy,  controversial issues regarding Fairview Park and the 60th Anniversary Celebration costs linger and ferment and the current council majority continues to rack up millions in legal bills because they apparently consider litigation just another cost of doing business.

SORTING TRUTH FROM LIES
Next year we're going to be hearing a lot of rhetoric on the campaign trail.  The volume and intensity of the vitriol - probably from both sides - will be increased and it will become increasingly difficult to sort the facts from the political, self-serving fiction.  We're going to try to help with that problem by following the campaigns closely and reporting the issues as we see them.

STIFLING CRITICS
Members of the current elected leadership so dislike criticism of their actions that they've recently codified measures to quash critical comments during council meetings, thereby disenfranchising many voters.  They, and their mouthpieces, constantly refer to those who have a different view of issues as "haters" in an attempt to marginalize their views.

IT'S UP TO YOU
So, get some rest over the holidays and be ready to pay even closer attention to municipal issues next year.  Do some research on issues that are important to you, attend relevant meetings and participate in the debate.  Only you, the voters of this city, can make change.  It's up to you...

AN APPROPRIATE CHRISTMAS DITTY
In the spirit of the season - it is Christmas Eve, after all - courtesy of Dr. Suess I leave you this morning with a little song dedicated to our mayor.  Enjoy...

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Monday, December 23, 2013

The 60th - Big Numbers and Big Questions

SO MANY QUESTIONS
Yesterday, Sunday, the Daily Pilot ran a HUGE story on the Costa Mesa 60th Anniversary Celebration costs.  The headline - which ran at the top of the print page, immediately below the banner, read: "Documents: 60th party cost nearly $400k".  Unfortunately, the story didn't appear online until this morning, hence my delay in writing about it.  You can read the story written by Jeremiah Dobruck, with big assists by Bradley Zint and Jill Cowan, HERE.

STIFF-ARMED BY THE CITY
This information has been long-awaited.  Activists and elected leaders have been stone-walled in their requests for information about costs and procedures almost since the end of the 3-day street fair  six months ago.  The excuse that was frequently given was that "There's a personnel investigation underway, so we can't comment."  Well, I understand about that, but they just kept on paying SOME invoices, but wouldn't provide information on those.

FIRST COMMENT
Take some time to read the entire article - I'm not going to attempt a verbatim re-hash here.  I will, however, transcribe the first comment to appear online because it captures the frustration of many people throughout the community.  Mary Ann O'Connell, a member of the Charter Committee, published this comment:

"Finally - some information has been brought to light and I, for one, appreciate the effort. The citizens who have made repeated requests for information were stonewalled. As I read this there are three nagging questions: 

1) Why a 60th in the first place? I never understood the push for this particular anniversary celebration - 50 made more sense. Whose idea was this in the first place?

2) Where was the CEO's oversight? How could all these commitments have been made with no executive oversight? Was Mr Hatch asleep at the wheel?

3) Why has the council been rubber stamping these payments? I understand paying the uncontested bills (despite the budget concerns) but if there questions about others, why have they been paid?

Thanks to the Daily Pilot's staff for staying on this story and helping us get a glimmer of what the mess really is.
"

THIS WON'T BE THE ONLY COMMENT, EITHER
I suspect we will see a growing comment thread on this article that will amplify the frustration and concern members of the community have on this issue.

WHY THE COST OVER-RUN?
Based on the analysis performed by the Daily Pilot staffers, it appears that the 60th Anniversary Celebration exceeded the original estimates by nearly $80,000 - a total of over $400,000 - so far!

WHO'S RESPONSIBLE?
Public Affairs Manager Dan Joyce and his assistant, Christine Cordon, were placed on administrative leave with pay in August for, as stated in the article, unspecified reasons.

WHO ELSE IS INVOLVED?
There were, and are, questions about the deal for the food presentation at the street fair, which was apparently presented to the hand-picked 60th Anniversary Celebration Committee by Joyce as a done deal.  That arrangement involves a company linked to OC GOP Chairman Scott Baugh - a good buddy of Mayor Jim Righeimer.

AND WHAT ABOUT BARRERA?
One of the consultants tasked with providing entertainment for the event was Roland Barrera, who has subsequently been accused of participating in a Ponzi scheme unrelated to the 60th Celebration.  According to the Daily Pilot article, more than $127,000 was paid to Barrerra - more than the entire amount the City Council authorized for the entire event!

 WHO WAS HIDING WHAT?
According to the article, 60th Anniversary Celebration Committee Chairman Mike Scheafer was shut out of the approval process.  Why?  Who made that decision?

WE NEED ANSWERS!
Again, read the article.  In 1760 words the authors provide the framework for wide community debate.      We hope the publication of this information will jog the City to finally provide answers to so many questions that continue to swirl around this issue.

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