An Early, But Not Boring, Meeting
Well, sometimes when I'm wrong I'm REALLY wrong! I predicted the Costa Mesa City Council meeting last night would end at 10:35 p.m. I only missed it by two and a half hours! Yep, we were outta there at 8:05 p.m.! I got home so early my wife thought I was a burglar!
Only 40 people were in the audience as the evening began at 6:00, and a few of those were staffers, perched in the front rows just in case some kind of emergency back-up was needed. Still, those there early heard some interesting stuff.
ONLY 10 SPEAKERS IN PUBLIC COMMENTS
For the second meeting in a row there were exactly 10 people who filled out cards to speak during the Public Comments segment, which fits Mayor Jim Righeimer's criticism-quashing edict that only 10 speakers would be accommodated during the first segment, with anyone else left over forced to sit through the entire meeting and speak at the end, following items pulled from the Consent Calendar.
RIGHEIMER TWISTS THE RULES - AGAIN
And, in a curious twist, Righeimer encouraged anyone wishing to speak on items on the Consent Calendar to do so during Public Comments to keep the item from being "pulled" and trailed to the end of the meeting. This is just one more perfect example of how he tries to bend the rules. The rules, as spelled out specifically on the agenda report TWICE, states that Public Comments are for items NOT on the agenda. And, it's another reason for not taking what he says on the dais at face value. His penchant for misspeaking is becoming much more pronounced and frequent lately. Maybe his lawsuit against the men and women of the CMPD is actually true! Maybe he is no longer able to function - there are certainly signs of it these days.
CONCERN ABOUT VETS
Beth Refakes expressed concern that the Costa Mesa veterans, already without their facility, may now be forced to abandon the Neighborhood Community Center if the proposed Library expansion utilizes that facility.
I was a little surprised when one of the first speakers, Dennis Ashendorf, rose to heap support on Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger about their lawsuit against the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department. He told them, and us, that he didn't know many of the details - then went on to demonstrate his ignorance of the facts by completely misstating some of them - but that he supported them in the lawsuit. He told them, "Please win." It was very strange, indeed.
Several speakers addressed the fact that some items on the Consent Calendar - the Mid-Year Budget Review, for example - should have been an item on the regular agenda. Robin Leffler told the council that, since the recent Budget Study Session was held at 4:30 p.m., few people could attend and hear the details on the issue. Of course, she is correct. And, since Wendy Leece did, in fact, pull the item from the Consent Calendar, when it was discussed at the very end of the meeting there was very little detail provided by Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent. The entire discussion took less than 15 minutes and no formal presentation was made. Only very cursory attention was paid to the eight (8) exhibits that formed part of the report. It's events like this that demonstrate to us that the highly-touted word "Transparency" is only that - a word. On important issues the process of getting accurate and timely information can be long and painful.
60TH ANNIVERSARY CRITICS
For example, others spoke during Public Comments about the long-awaited 60th Anniversary Celebration report and the need for there to be a gathering of the volunteers, who worked long and hard on that event, to provide an opportunity for an "after action" report - a chance to present their views on how the event was managed to help avoid some of the problems in the future. This has been stalled for months, with the investigation of the 60th Anniversary Celebration finances being the reason given. CEO Tom Hatch, during his comments, told us that he had a meeting scheduled with event Chairman Mike Scheafer and Vice Chair Melinda Lowery next week to make plans for such a meeting. He then invited the two most outspoken advocates of the meeting - Sue Lester and Cindy Brenneman - that he would be happy to meet with them. That sounded to me very much like he was trying to temper vocal critics before their views spread to the broader volunteer base.
LEWIS IS PROBABLY CORRECT
The most interesting presentation came from businessman Tim Lewis, who owns an equipment rental business on Harbor Boulevard. He came to the meeting angry about a proposed development contiguous to his location that recently had a screening request heard by the City. His contention is that councilman Gary Monahan should be recused from discussions and votes on that issue because Monahan has a bias against him personally, and came armed with newspaper accounts to support that claim. He began his 3-minutes by praising the CMPD, then tried to get clarification from Righeimer about the development, mentioning his views about Monahan's participation. He and Righeimer went back and forth and, when Lewis finally asked Righeimer to ask the City Attorney, Tom Duarte, for a clarification, Righeimer blurted back, "No!" Lewis asked, "What do I have to do, file a lawsuit?" Righeimer responded that he'd read Lewis' recent letter to the council, sent him an email and referred to his presentation before them as "your little routine." Lewis asked how he should proceed and was told by Righeimer to contact CEO Hatch. Lewis looked at Hatch and said, "Tom, did you get my letter?", to which Righeimer said, "He's not going to answer you." The angry Lewis, his time about to expire, looked directly at Righeimer and said, "You're fulla shit!", then stepped away from the speaker's podium. I smiled, because someone had finally expressed the obvious.
RIGHEIMER ON SENIOR CENTER
Following the Public Comments Righeimer led off the Council Member Comments segment by praising the Police and Fire Departments, stating that we "hire good people". Did I mention it's a campaign year? He then told us he'd gotten "a lot of emails and calls" about the Senior Center. He told us there is ZERO chance the Senior Center is going to close, which I thought was curious, since he and the council only have a little bit to say on that issue. If the Senior Center runs out of cash they will have few options. He mentioned the recent audit, commenting that it pointed out management shortfalls and that "this board" (he meant the City Council - another peculiar gaffe) wasn't going to let the Senior Center close. He told us that the Senior Center Board will have "different bylaws" - another curious statement, since ONLY the Senior Corporation Board determines what their bylaws will be - and then he said emphatically, "NO CHANCE THE SENIOR CENTER WILL CLOSE!" He continues to sound like he thinks he's the Emperor Of Costa Mesa, not the mayor.
LEECE ON TREES, LIBRARY AND 60TH
Wendy Leece expressed concern that a recent tree removal issue that impacted a large segment of one north Costa Mesa neighborhood had no appeal process - the Parks and Recreation Commission is the last stop. She asked Hatch to look into a way to allow appeal to the City Council - the elected body. She also expressed concern about the 60th Anniversary situation and also said she's in favor of expansion of the library to provide more space for children's activities, but yet retain meeting rooms.
Hatch covered many items during his segment:
- He gave a weak response to the request for the Budget review to be part of the regular agenda.
- On the issue of the proposed library expansion, he said it will definitely include the Vets, that private rentals take a lower priority, but there are no solutions yet.
- I mentioned his response about the 60th Celebration (above).
- Regarding the Senior Center, he told he had met with Senior Center Board President Judy Lindsey and Executive Director Aviva Goelman, and corrected a mistake he made on the date of that meeting. He said it's important for the council and community to weigh-in on how we should move forward.
- He addressed the recent improvement in the way Worker's Compensation issues are handled that has resulted in significant dollar savings.
- He mentioned a change suggested by Interim Information Technology Director Steve Elvy that will save more than $110,000 per year on software issues.
- He mentioned the new Youth Basketball Program and showed a short video clip.
- He mentioned Costa Mesa Connect, a new smart phone app, that can be useful to residents.
- He then mentioned hiring several new staff members "on the 5th floor" and told us that members of this new Code Enforcement staff was spending 40 hours a week each on Motels and Group Homes and that a third member was focusing on "problem properties". He then showed us a clip of Code Enforcement officer Mike Brumbaugh on the job. (Nobody has yet explained WHY it was necessary to create an entirely new, separate Code Enforcement operation on the 5th floor)
- He closed with a long, feeble attempt at an explanation of the controversial decision to permit Matt Leinart's Flag Football program to oust established softball programs from TeWinkle Park. During that explanation he mentioned a meeting with Parks and Recreation Chairman Byron de Arakal and departed Recreation Manager Bob Knapp last October on the issue, then alluded to the "staff failed to communicate with the community.", which I interpreted to mean Knapp. He also acknowledged a mistake "staff" made in waiving fees for Friday Night Lights flag football. Funny... I don't recall retired City Manager Allan Roeder ever throwing the staff under the bus in his three dozen years with the City. Hatch wrapped up that comment with some vague mention of the need to balance youth and adult field use.
Next came a blitz of New Business items.
Attorney Celeste Brady guided the discussion of Items 1, 2 and 3, which dealt with the Successor Agency to the now-defunct Redevelopment Agency. After a very short combined discussion they each passed on 5-0 votes.
#4 was Fire Chief Dan Stefano's EVP request for a new system to facilitate traffic signal changing for emergency responders, primarily in the north part of town. That passed, 5-0.
#5 was the new Summer Youth Programs in conjunction with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, which emphasized arts programs. It also passed after a short discussion, 5-0.
#6 was the first reading of an ordinance including vandalism in the current reward program. It passed with almost no discussion, 5-0.
#7 was the repeal of the ordinance forbidding Sex Offenders from Public Parks, which is probably unconstitutional. If you blinked you'd miss that discussion. It passed 5-0.
That took us to the discussion of the budget item pulled from the Consent Calendar, mentioned above. It took less than 15 minutes before it passed 5-0 and the meeting was adjourned at 8:05 p.m.!
Permit me a couple observations from the Peanut Gallery - my back row seat. First, Jim Righeimer continues to run roughshod over the rules of procedure and tries to run this city like his own little empire. His careless - or pre-meditated - disregard for the established rules and policies is the result of either laziness or intentional acts. In either case it is unacceptable, confusing and sometimes illegal and very costly.
Second, for three years I've cut CEO Tom Hatch a lot of slack because I believe he's caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. He works for two guys - Righeimer and Mensinger - whom I believe would cut him off at the knees if he pushed back. Hatch is a great guy with deep roots in the community. However, his weakness has only further emboldened Righeimer and Mensinger and allowed them to jam unacceptable programs and schemes down the resident's throats - sometimes with very costly results. Their ham-handed handling of employee matters - the stupid, illegal issuance of more than 200 layoff notices three years ago and their bogus lawsuit against the members of the CMPD are just two of them - have created legal issues for this City unseen in the past.
Hatch has permitted them to circumvent the long-established policy about giving direction to staffers, which has created turmoil, tension and stress throughout the building and caused many senior staffers to retire early or leave for a less-toxic workplace, taking with them decades of experience and institutional knowledge. He went along with their refusal to permit timely hiring of police positions which has placed the safety of this city in jeopardy. Because he has permitted Righeimer and Mensinger to run roughshod over the government - ignoring the established rules and policies - Hatch must share responsibility for the systematic destruction of a once-proud city government - one that was acknowledged throughout the region as a beacon of sound municipal management.
From the beginning I've been rooting for Hatch to succeed, but, in my opinion, he has failed. I ask myself just who might have succeeded under these circumstances - without getting fired, that is. I don't have an answer. What I do know is that his unwillingness or inability to effectively step up, and "manage up", has left many city employees feeling that they have no support from the management of the city - a very hopeless feeling.
IF THINGS WERE DIFFERENT?
Do I think Tom Hatch would, or could, do a better job of managing this city if the elected leadership would just let him? Two years ago I might have enthusiastically said "YES!" Today.... I'm not so sure. He's allowed himself to be placed in such a deep hole - and participated in digging it himself - that I think he's lost the confidence and respect of many employees and more than a few residents. I think he's a good guy, a solid municipal management technician who cares deeply about the City, the residents and the employees, but I'm not sure he can climb out of that hole now. I'm not sure anyone in that position could...